Presence Audio Guide

Presence Audio Guide

Meg: Sally has this deep connection with her children. She’s a very skilled and loving mother, and you can see that within all of her images of her kids. For her kids to just pose like that and stare directly and deeply into the camera with their mother right behind it, I think it’s very powerful, and it says a lot about her relationship with her children.

As a viewer of this, as somebody who is getting to step into this beautiful private world that she’s sharing of her bond and relationship with her kids, I think it’s really powerful and important for us culturally to be able to be privy to the relationship mothers have with their children to get to see and feel, in a way, what she feels when she looks at her children and they look at her.

There’s many ways that you can have a bond with your child. I think it’s important to show the beauty of motherhood and not in a way that’s over-romanticized. I think it’s important to see the grit and the dirty parts of being a mom, too, or a caretaker.

Even though there’s a lot of love and trust coming through in this image, there’s also a lot of, I don’t know, realness. They do look a little angry. [laughs] They do look a little fed up, but that’s what life is about. It’s what it means to be a human. You get to feel a range of emotions. I think that goes the same for motherhood.

Sally Mann (United States, born 1951), Emmett, Jessie, and Virginia, 1989, gelatin silver print, 18 3/4 x 23 inches. Promised Gift from the Judy Glickman Lauder Collection, 4.2012 © Sally Mann. Courtesy Gagosian

Ẹniọlà: When we think of presence, we think of ourselves occupying a space. It’s not just the body, but also the energy that we give out to the space, like our behavior. She’s invoking presence in my mind by her just being in that pose.

Human beings usually focus on the face. Usually, when we look at the eyes, you will feel something. You look at the facial expression, you interpret something. The fact that all of those are kinda hidden, just detaches it away from the human figure, and the fact that it’s missing allows our sense to see more of what it is. So, there’s a detachment, so now, we have to look at other aspects to understand what we’re seeing.

As I was looking at it, my eyes were drawn to the head. This is also one of the times my upbringing in culture. In the Yoruba culture, where I grow up, the head is seen as the crown. It’s seen as something vital to the human being. The fact that it’s not facing up, it’s facing forward, it’s inviting you inside this person’s head, rather than inside of their face.

William: The posture of her shoulders is what strikes me. Her shoulders are exposed so that we can see them. And they are… For me, the effect of contour here is one of… Let me just catch my breath before I bring myself back to it. 

She’s photographed with a very distant and distracted look. From this perspective, the left eye is a slightly different shape than the right eye. The slightly different shape of the left and the right eye tell you that she sort of relaxed into this casual posture, which demonstrates her exhaustion. 

Here’s someone who’s exhausted by work and exhausted by the bits and pieces of life that go along with work, despite the fact that she’s engaged in what, by all appearances, is a glamorous world. To me, she’s emblematic of someone who wasn’t allowed to be a person, that the sort of exploitation of her life was that she was always this sort of character.  

I see what I think we’re supposed to see, which is the tragedy that became her life, not too long after this photograph was taken, if I recall, not even a decade after. 

Joyce: It almost looks like Ingrid Bergman has been collaged on this photograph of these three women from the island of Stromboli, where she was about to be filmed on this movie with her lover, Roberto Rosselini, and she is not what you saw her on magazine covers, where she’s smiling Ingrid Bergman or an icon.

When I look at this, I see a woman is filled with complexity. That expression of hers is an expression of… not fear, exactly, but anguish. To have the corners of her mouth go down is trouble. She is troubled. Where is she looking? She’s looking inward, I think. Who knows where she was looking?

She was probably thinking about her children. That’s what I would have been thinking about, to be quite honest. What did I do? What will they hear at school? The big affair that had just broken before this picture, that she had left her husband, and not that she left her kids, but back then, people always thought you had left your kids.

Imagine her on set of that movie and being aware of the world looking at her as a tainted woman, as a cheater, as somebody who had sinned. Don’t forget, Italy was a very religious country back then. Those women could have heard through the network of any small village that, “Wow, did you hear she’s having an affair with the director?”

It’s haunting that those women are out of focus, so they look like ghosts, almost, especially the older one in the foreground. There’s a road, and she seems to be going not forward in the road, but someplace else.

Joyce: Arnold Newman was such a fabulous designer. He often said to me taking a great portrait with three-quarters moving furniture. In other words, creating a harmonious design. Very different from some of his photos of Picasso or Matisse in his studio that were so iconically grand. He worked in many styles, and he also used his abilities to make comments on the human condition. 
He was very aware that Stieglitz was an old man by that time. Georgia O’Keeffe and Stieglitz are two of the legendary couples of all art history.  

In photography, of course, what’s largest has a bigger importance. He is a much larger part of this picture, and she’s sort of an appendage. 
This is after a long relationship where they both had affairs with other people, and she lived out in New Mexico. When you look into Stiglitz’s face, you see he was alone a lot of his older days.  

 This is not a photo that would have been taken 30 years before. Newman was very bright and understood human nature. I think he made a decision in making this image more intimate and a look at some of the sorrows of life. I see sorrow on both of their faces, so I applaud it as being real. 

William: Here, we have two characters who lived a life that was outside of the mainstream. They’re not presenting themselves against a backdrop.  They’re presenting themselves in this kitchen. There’s a stove with a coffee maker. It has a spice rack.  

Patti Smith is wearing a belt that says New York on it. She’s got her black t-shirt on her hair is scraggly. She is giving you the most mischievous casualness in her body posture. 
There’s some fun at someone’s expense that’s about to happen. I’ve been trying to figure out Robert Maplethorpe’s expression there. He seems to want to be photographed in a portrait and she seems to want to tickle him or something. 
She’s expressing her power by saying, “I’m in control of this photograph.”  

My understanding of narrative as a philosopher of art, it’s my belief that artworks are presented to us is what I call attentional engines. Once we know how to categorize them as a type of artwork, type of image that has a certain narrative, they tell us where to look. They show us how to explore their surfaces. 
In this photograph, what I love is it’s somebody just presenting a change in American culture. Whether everybody got to succeed at the revolution that they wanted, it gives us a story about domestic life, where people get to be who they are. They get to express their identity. They’re just brazen, “This is what you get. This is who we are.” 

Norman Seeff (United States, born South Africa, born 1939), Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith, New York, 1969, archival pigment print, 15 x 22 inches. Promised Gift from the Judy Glickman Lauder Collection, 1.2016.1. Image courtesy Luc Demers. © Photograph by Norman Seeff

Joyce: This is a photograph taken when I was just really starting out. I had gotten married way too young, five days after I graduated from college, to a very lovely man. It was too young. I hadn’t had a chance to really get to know who I was.

During this time, I became very depressed. I was also doing a series of self-portraits, so I always had my gear with me. I was invited out to the country to a friend’s place for the weekend, and I had an amazing dream. The dream was that I was walking through the snow and holding a birdcage.

I woke up very anxious. Was the bird getting out of the cage, or was it trapped in there? Of course, that’s because I felt trapped in the cage and was afraid I’d never get out. I used to stop at these thrift stores and happened to have a birdcage in my trunk.

At that point in my life, I only wore white. It was the middle of the night. I just got up and got my tripod, and I went out in the snow and tried to re-enact a little bit of that dream. I didn’t consciously say, “oh, I am going to cut my head off.” I just didn’t feel that my head was important to that. Because what I saw was that birdcage with the door open, seemingly trapped, not going anywhere.

I loved walking out in that icy snow. I felt that I had come close to showing what had woken me up. It’s a very personal photo, and the only one from that period that I still have in a little frame where I live, because it reminds me of who I was all those years ago.

Having come so far since then, but being able to look back and have compassion for that person who was pushing forward and who wanted to speak in her own voice.

Joyce Tenneson (United States, born 1945), Self-Portrait with Bird Cage, 1975, inkjet print, printed later, 11 x 16 1/8 inches. Promised Gift from the Judy Glickman Lauder Collection, 10.2010.12. Image courtesy of Luc Demers. © Joyce Tenneson

Cheryle: Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and then open them and see this image, which is in the negative. There is a great deal of movement. There’s essentially a migration of birds, a migration of our breath, and migration of our mind.

What would it be like if you were physically there? Would you be walking through grass? If you think about the ratio, it’s about 7/8th percent about the birds and that ground they were on, and that place that they were putting their feet while they’re actually lifting their wings and their feet and they’re flying off.

For me, it could be butterflies. It could be dragonflies. It could be the shattering away of some inhibitions that we’re feeling in our own lives.

In the corner of that frame is also house. There’s that sense of home, that sense of peace. That maybe that’s where we’re sleeping from and it’s almost in a dream state that we’re flying off with them. I’m really drawn to that sense of chaos. It’s almost like a breath out.

I’m watching these birds leaving me but also on their journey to another place. So as I first look, I think it’s that beautiful kind of chaos. I don’t think that we can exist in a world with some sort of peace without also understanding that there will be motion and chaos, and that those two go hand in hand.

Ashok: I think this picture is a picture that jumps out to a neuroscientist because of the motion, the contrast, and the detection of contrast being an important part of how our retinas perceive movement. The thing about emotion is it’s a really high-level process.

To get to emotion, you have to go from these edges and textures, to objects, to figures, to examining the figures, to figure out their emotional impact. And for me also, the realization that this photo was mirrored and that there was a missing figure, changed it a lot.

The emotional impact of this picture really takes many hundreds of milliseconds to unfold, which is a long time in the time scale of our brains. Hundreds of milliseconds would be like some fraction of a second. We can respond to things in like a reflex in maybe tens of milliseconds.

To go from the light hitting our eye, to processing an object and understanding that that’s a face or that’s a person takes much much longer. To place an image like this into an emotional context, might involve thinking back through your own memories, thinking through experiences.

That process of recollection might be very extended and require this pondering, that’s very different than the immediate “what’s in it?”

Jerry N. Uelsmann (United States, 1934-2022), Small Woods Where I Met Myself, 1967, gelatin silver print, 10 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches. Promised Gift from the Judy Glickman Lauder Collection, 11.2006.18. Image courtesy of Luc Demers. © Jerry N. Uelsmann

Cheryle: What is happening in a camera obscura is that all the light has been removed from this room. The lamps are not on, the doors are shut. It is essentially sealed from all sources of light, except for this one little bit of light, usually within a piece of black plastic or maybe a piece of metal where a single hole has been created. And in this case, we can imagine that is at the center of that photograph. 
There probably is a window right opposite that bed that looks out onto those trees. And it is through that singular hole that the image is coming in. Imagine that the whole world outside is transported through that single pin prick, and then it’s being projected onto the wall beyond. At the head of the bed and the wall, beyond the bed, and then into the ceiling area. 
During that time, what else is unfolding in the yard that we’re not going to see? Is somebody being shot? Is somebody being elected? What children are being born? But in that room, everything is closed away and we’re only aware of that tree growing itself onto that wall visually. 
When I look at that work, I’m planted in a room but because of the obscura, I’m allowed to let my mind wander out in the natural world outside of that room via that little bit of light that he’s created to build out the camera obscura.  

I feel like I can smell the spruce trees and smell the wool on the blankets. 

Meg: I’ve always just assumed that was a crumpled up piece of garment, a jacket or something, on her lap. But, as I was sitting here looking at it, I then noticed the nose and the mouth of the baby, and then immediately was like, “Of course.”

Of course, there’s an infant on her lap. It’s not just the two young children. There’s an infant on her lap, which means this woman gave birth to that baby probably six months ago, six months prior to that image. Can you imagine? I can’t imagine, giving birth to a baby when you can barely find food for your other two children.

The amount of stress, depletion an infant takes from your body when you’re a breastfeeding mother, it is intense. To be in a position where you have an infant, and you have lack of water and food, it is really, it must have been incredibly difficult for this mother to meet her basic daily needs.

It’s hard for me to look at this image and not think of all of the women and children who are suffering as we speak. It just is, to me, is so relevant to today, even though it was taken in the 1930s.

Ashok : The first thing that stood out to me was the distance between the photographer and subjects. It illustrates the scale of this thing. For me, it actually made me have to use my imagination to try and put myself into the experience of one of these individuals.

What would it feel like to be doing this work? What would it feel like to be surrounded by so many others? What would it sound like? The texture of the rock next to the texture of the people from my vantage point, it’s hard at first to tell what’s a person and what’s not a person.

It’s kind of inhuman, almost, the way that the individuals here show up in the photograph. Dehumanizing, maybe, would be the word to use for this. It’s almost as if they’re spilling over something. They’re closer together. They’re more packed in.

The landscape doesn’t have enough capacity. It’s almost as if they’re a fluid moving through this surface. It has this aspect of collective behavior like ants that can make it hard to identify one individual and think about the autonomy that that individual has. It’s this very collective movement.

It makes you think about it abstractive. It’s an overwhelming feeling. I think I t both makes you think more about the systemic and social, governmental, financial structures that led to what’s happening in the photo, capturing this huge mass of people suffering in this dangerous endeavor.

Stop 1: Discussion 

Jenny: She is expanded in her arms. Her arms are going to either side in opposite directions. Her chest is open and lifted. Her neck is elongated. Her head is looking up towards the sky or towards the top of the building. She’s standing completely straight up. 
She’s expanding horizontally, she’s standing vertically, she is expanding in all planes. This photograph makes me feel a welcoming, and also a surrender, to whatever is presenting itself to her in this space, these ruins, this architectural wonder. 
The sky, it’s an ombre from dark to light down to her, but it’s the opposite on the building, it goes dark to light above. She’s part of that darkness down below. This photograph is a revelation or a jubilation, an awakening of spirit. It is a connection to ancestors, [laughs] the Sun, which is like this light, 93 million miles away, and it still reaches each and every one us. To me, that is very spiritual. 

Stop 2: Guided Meditation 

Jenny: Take a moment to breathe, with a nice, long exhale. Take a moment to take in the light in this photo. Just noticing the illuminations, the shadows, and all the variations in between. I invite you to notice where you feel that in your body. 
Noticing the shape of the dancer, noticing the sky behind the dancer, and the space all around. Taking a moment to notice how that’s affecting your own body. Coming back to the breath. Nice, long exhales. Maybe coming up with a word or a phrase, a movement or a gesture to seal your experience with this photo. 

Jenny: Longing, lamentation, struggle, an internal pull, churning. Where I feel this in my body is a twisting within the center of my chest, the center of the torso. If I were to put that into motion, it would make my shoulders want to go to the right, my hips want to go to the left. Really, just using the core muscles to turn my body in one way and the other at the same time.

To me, this image shows some channeling of energy. It shows some twisting, pulling, and being pulled. I’m looking at the way that her hands are in one direction, her legs are going in different directions, so her head and her hands are in the opposite direction.

I notice that the light is quite centered on the length from the knee to the hands. There are many stories that could come from this photo, stories of people’s lamentations, people looking at the lighting and thinking about times where they’ve longed for something or they’ve made a choice that they feel conflicted about.

Rose: Berenice Abbott was in Paris for eight or nine years or so, and then she moved to New York. When she got to New York, she was excited by the changes that she saw. This was modern technology, pies from a machine, no person to wait on you. 
The food was very good, she was recording this kind of upscale moment of technology. We only think of technology as what happens in our lifetime, but this was technology.  

This picture’s humble. It shows an ordinary day in someone’s life, where they’re taking a little break, perhaps, or they’re done with work. 
The man depicted in the photograph was Berenice’s assistant and chauffeur, because she went out with an 8-by-10 camera on a very big tripod. She needed a long exposure, and she wanted a certain thing to happen, which is to say she wanted it to look like somebody was just going to get something. Who knows how long they practiced or how often? 

Rose: Berenice was a very systematic person, and so she set out in that way of dividing the city up into sections and then carefully photographing Manhattan. She worked very hard on this project. One of her major projects, called “Changing New York.” She went out every day, and with this big camera. It was not easy.

Her most famous picture, and probably her best-selling picture, is “New York at Night.” When she went up. Reading about that picture, I remember that she had to pick a certain time, so it had to be wintertime. She organized it all. She was a smart thinker.

She probably would have used a telephoto lens in that situation to make it fill the frame as much as possible and not be very far in the distance. She realized that she had to go a little after 4:00, while the lights were on, but before the workers left for the night.

She had to be sure to get up to wherever she went [laughs] to make this outstanding photograph. I don’t know how risky that was, but I do remember reading that she was nervous about heights. Because she was Berenice Abbott, she persisted, and so she did it.

Rose : We see the lettering on the signs, we see what people have on, we see the cars. All things that we may take for granted in our own lives right now about how things work. It records a certain era. 

He planned it all out very carefully. He had to. It’s New York City. There’s a lot of traffic. 
He picked a sunny day, which makes things glow. We get the shadows, and you can see the depth more of everything. You see the shadows of the fire escapes and even the peoples’ shadows.  

Now, these connect. He actually marked the sidewalk with chalk so he knew where he could stand, basically. Where he needed to stand to make it a true panorama. 
I do have some of his diary notes here. It says he tried the 6th Avenue panel this morning. “I might have missed it. It was surprisingly hard because of the cars and trucks that just parked for a few minutes. Also, the cars that come whizzing by from both directions that you must shoot between. You can’t use part of a car in one section. You have to have all of it or nothing.” 
He says, “I’m just getting ready to develop the negatives, and I’m holding my breath.” 

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