In Detroit of the year 1944 the Packard Motorcar Company promoted three blacks to work next to whites in their assembly lines and in response, 25,000 whites walked off the job, effectively slowing down the critical war production in that time. It was clear that whites who worked with blacks in the same plant nevertheless still refused to work side-by-side with them. We had Double Indemnity by Billy Wilder («We were talking about automobile insurance, only you were thinking about murder. And I was thinking about that anklet.»), and Gaslight by George Cukor at the cinemas („gaslighting“ describes an abuser’s self-image as a sympathetic person, while simultaneously priming the disoriented victim to believe that he or she is to blame for potentially mistreatment). In German cinemas they screened Neigungsehe by Carl Froelich, a film earning the rating „demotic valuable“ (even if we have the chance to see a couple on the screen exchanging a deep kiss. A scandal at that time, of course). Bertolt Brecht wrote his The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Jean Genet published his Notre Dame des Fleurs and Astrid Lindgren gave her stories of Pippi Longstocking to the wide audience. You were able to listen permanently to Bing Crosby’s hit I‚ll be seing you on the radio, and the Nobel Prize in Physics was handed to Isidor Isaac Rabi (he discovered the nuclear magnetic resonance). It was that year Peter Hutton was born.
In Philadelphia of the year 1883 black newcomers were part of the Great Migration out of the rural South to northern and midwestern industrial cities like Philadelphia. Louis Waterman began his experiments to invent the fountain pen. And Italy signed military treaty with Austria-Hungary and Germany. It was that year Charles Sheeler was born.
Charles Sheeler used his own photographs and film stills as the basis for paintings and drawings, thus crystallizing the differences and similarities between them. Works in one medium manage to function as independent objects while also being inextricably linked to works in other media. And the essential role that photography played in his creative process was often criticized. In 1931 Sheeler himself began somehow downplaying the complex dialogue he forged among various techniques early in the century as one of his most innovative and important contributions to the history of American modernism. At the dawn of the twentieth century, Henry Adams proclaimed that the Machine was as central to our modern American culture as the Virgin was to medieval culture. You can think of that what you like. But id not we worshiped in our factories as our ancestors worshiped in cathedrals? In this century we also raised up bridges, grain elevators, and skyscrapers, and many were dazzled by these symbols of the Machine Age — from American presidents such as Calvin Coolidge to European artists such as Marcel Duchamp.
«No drawing can give you the actuality to the extent that the photograph is, and I can pick out and make references for a form that I want to use with greater definition than I could by making a quick sketch from the subject, which would fill the considerable latitude from what I actually saw on location. Well, it isn’t a conscious thing; it just seems to be a logical thing for me.» Charles Sheeler
Peter Hutton did not study photography. Painting was his big deal. His uncle was an artist, Edward Plunkett, he knew a lot of NY artists including also Marcel Duchamp and collected pop art. He was a great influence on Hutton. His mother was also an amateur painter. When he was a kid, Hutton’s father had kept a photo album as a merchant seaman, filled with images of places he had gone when working on ships; India, China, Indonesia. They were just snapshots. Landscapes, seascapes, very amateur casual photographs, but a chance to place and to zone out and imagine these places. When Hutton started working on ships, it built up his appreciation for this sort of traveling.
«I took photographs when I went to India, then after that I eventually learned film. In the 70’s, the last time I ever worked on a ship was in ’74, so there was a 10-year period from ’64-74 where I intensely worked on ships. I paid my way through art school by working on ships. I went to sea for a semester, then to school for a semester, back and forth from sea to school.» Peter Hutton
Charles Sheeler was one of the most noted American painters and photographers to embrace the iconography of the machine. But was he high priest or heretic in the religion of mass production and technology that dominated his era? And in all that electricity, glass, machines, hot and pumping, vibrant and also painful and beautiful at the same time. Because it is beauty. Sheeler knew that, he saw that. And Hutton, too. But it was not only knowing and seing. It was acting at a certain point. At the right point. Painting. Writing. Drawing. Photographing. Making movies. Making Moves.
«There’s a visual passivity with a newer generation of filmmakers where things are fed to us through TV, media, entertainment, what have you. We don’t have to sit and look at stuff as much. Its all fed to you. That’s something I think that comes into play, especially as a painter. Looking at other painters and being fascinated by the way they looked at things and how they realized visual ideas. Those influences were invaluable. But it might come from some primal thing such as being on the ocean for a long period of time. A lot of my early art teachers (at the university of Hawaii) were Chinese and Japanese. There ideas of looking at things were much more meditative, contemplative. Where you sort of give yourself to that thing you’re looking at. Whether it’s a rock garden, a brush painting, you’re kind of wandering into it visually. I think a lot of Western art is more like shouting at you saying ‘Hey! I’m over here, look at me! I’m funny! I’m weird…’ Pop art, contemporary art, it’s trying to get your attention because there’s so much wacky shit going on.»
«When we look at any object around us and walking around among other things subsequently, we have to bring it up into a conscious plane because — at least I didn’t realize it or think of it in that light for some time — but when we look at the next thing in sequence to the first object that we have gazed at, there’s still an overtone carried over of what the retina has just previously recorded. If it’s beautiful to some of us afterwards, it’s beautiful because it functioned. The functional intention was very beautifully realized. I mean more just explicitly a form. There are many forms in nature that later-day realists don’t intend to picture, and, just because they’re nature, which is the source of all our supplies for everything, they don’t enhance the nature in itself. They’re more or less accidental forms that crop up here and there, and if they don’t add to the subject, they must detract; they can’t be just neutral.» Charles Sheeler
Unlike the exterior views taken in daylight, Sheeler took his photographs at night when he could exercise complete control over lighting. Through dramatic illumination and unconventional framing, Sheeler created a relationship of contrasts that suggests basic oppositions. The photographs encompass light and dark, high and low, heat and cold, open and shut. They define the extreme limits of sensorial experience that the viewer might encounter in moving through the shadowy regions of an old house. Doors, windows, staircases, stoves, fireplaces, and ambiguous light sources are the focal points for the transformation of one phenomenon into its opposite. Sometimes these polarized oppositions even suggest mutually exclusive possibilities.
«And I went in for architectural photography, starting right at the bottom with the architecture of Philadelphia, and that was after learning the rudiments of photography and processing. It was encouraging. I had quite a good many architects engaged me to photograph the house that had been completed. And then I began to add to that, I had commissions. I’d go around to see these people and show some of my photographs, and people would respond to them, and then they’d call me later and would I come and make some photographs of their house or whatever, and I got to — took on, in addition to the architects, collectors of notable things.» Charles Sheeler