March 20, 2015 / 11:49 AM / in 3 years

Photos without a camera? Exhibition shows it's old hat

A Sotheby's employee poses with artist Barbara Hepworth's "Vertical Form (St Ives)" at Sotheby's auction house in London November 14, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

ST IVES, England (Reuters) - The English seaside town of St Ives has long attracted leading modern artists and a new exhibition there looks at how modernist photographers from across the globe developed new ways of seeing a rapidly changing world.

The Modern Lens, at Tate St Ives until May 10, includes works by photographers from Europe, North and South America and Japan, working between the 1920s and 1960s.

St Ives, 280 miles (450 km) from London, attracted major artists, particularly after World War Two, including sculptor Barbara Hepworth and abstract painters Ben Nicholson and Patrick Heron.

“We felt that it was a really important exhibition to bring together, to think about how modernism has developed in photography, but also to think about that in relation to wider art practice,” said Sara Matson, one of the exhibition’s curators.

“We have arranged the show geographically, through various places in the world, and that resonates with the very particular place St Ives is.”

A key influence on several of the featured photographers was Germany’s Bauhaus art school, established in 1919, and one of its teachers, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.

His fotograms, images taken without a camera by exposing photographic paper to light, feature in the exhibition.

“He talks about the camera, using new technology to see the world in new ways and better ways that would prevent us from having a new world war,” said another of The Modern Lens’s curators, Laura Smith.

Japan’s Iwao Yamawaki studied architecture at the Bauhaus and later produced unsettling photographs of details of industrial buildings.

Others, though, took quite different approaches, capturing images they found in nature. Among the most striking is one by designer Charlotte Perriand, architect Pierre Jeanneret and painter Fernand Leger of a slab of ice lifted from a puddle and held up to the light

The Modern Lens fills the entire gallery - a first for Tate St Ives, which opened in 1993 and is in the middle of major expansion work due for completion in 2017.

Drilling in connection with the project meant this was the perfect time for an exhibition of photography rather than more vulnerable paintings.

“Essentially it did mean that photography as a medium was going to be unaffected by any potential small vibrations that could have been caused... It was a perfect conjunction of curatorial interest and work on the project,” said the museum’s press and communications officer Arwen Fitch.

Edited by Michael Roddy and Mark Trevelyan

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