GREENWICH, CONN.- The Bruce Museum
's newest exhibition, From Butterflies to Battleships, displays the work of four singular American photographers: Margaret Bourke-White, Carl Mydans, Patrick Nagatani, and Brett Weston.
From Butterflies to Battleships showcases the tremendous diversity of directions taken by photographers in the twentieth century, whether employing the camera in a documentary mode to record insect development and to chronicle historic events, or experimenting with the technology to create abstract or composite images. Organized by Stephanie Guyet, Zvi Grunberg Resident Fellow 2018-2019, the exhibition consists entirely of photographs from the Bruce Museums permanent collection.
Given that the Bruce is a place for both aesthetic and scientific inquiry, I wanted to create an exhibition that tapped into that dual mission. Since photography is a practice that lies at the intersection of art and science, and the Museum has a host of surprising works in its photo collection, this seemed like the perfect subject to explore, says Guyet.
Margaret Bourke-White was a trailblazer. In the 1930s she shot LIFE magazines first cover story and was the first foreign journalist allowed to photograph inside the Soviet Union. She documented fateful figures and events such as Mahatma Gandhi shortly before he was killed, and the U.S. Armys liberation of Buchenwald. Although renowned for capturing the glories of the industrial age, and the sorrow and suffering of economic and wartime disasters, BourkeWhite also had a lifelong interest in the natural world.
On view in this exhibition is a collection of insect studies from the 1930s in which butterflies and moths are hazily depicted in various stages of metamorphosis. These photographs reveal a remarkably intimate and experimental side of Bourke-Whites oeuvre.
Carl Mydans was also one of LIFE magazines first photographers, and he spent the majority of his career capturing landmark events for the magazine in the United States, Europe, and Asia. During World War II, Mydans worked along the Finnish-Russian border, as well as in Sweden, Britain, Italy, France, China, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. Throughout the war, Mydans embedded himself among both troops and locals, which allowed him to capture intense and critical moments of history. At one point, he and his wife, Shelley, a researcher at LIFE, were held as prisoners of war for two years.
From Butterflies to Battleships includes two iconic photographs from 1945, taken while on assignment during World War II with General Douglas MacArthur and his regiment.
Mydans also covered the Korean War for LIFE, and continued working for the publication until it folded in 1972. He passed away in 2004 at the age of 97 at his home in Larchmont, NY.
Patrick Nagatani, a Japanese-American, was born in Chicago less than two weeks after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and devoted his artistic career to chronicling the legacy of nuclear technology in the United States.
While studying photography at UCLA, Nagatani also worked in special effects on Hollywood films, the influence of which we see reflected in his work. He created composite images using photographs of military sites, monuments, Native American ancestral locations, Japanese tourists, and himself and his family members to depict contradicting myths and risks of nuclear energy.
Nagatani moved from Los Angeles to New Mexico in 1987. He taught art and photography at the University of New Mexico before retiring in 2006 as professor emeritus in the Department of Art & Art History.
Brett Weston, son of renowned photographer Edward Weston, first began making photographs as a teenager while living in Mexico with his father. While there, he was exposed to revolutionary artists such as Tina Modotti, Frida Kahlo, and Diego Rivera. Over time, Brett would reach beyond the modernist aesthetic championed by his father, to the brink of abstraction, using large format view cameras, and high contrast printing, to create abstract photographs from nature.
Toward the end of his life, Weston moved to the Big Island of Hawaii, where he said, I have found in this environment, everything I could want to interpret about the world photographically.