Wednesday, January 30, 2008


It never occurred to me how prevalent the subject (or backdrop) of sand is in photography until I was riffling through Christies catalog for their February 20th New York sale of photographs. There was sand everywhere! The above photograph by Wynn Bullock (estimated at $3,000 - $5,000) is of course a reference to the justly more celebrated Edward Weston image (below) which even printed posthumously is estimated at $7,000 - $9,000. There are sand pictures by Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan, Robert Frank, Michael Kenna, Herbert Matter, Anna Mendieta, the Westons - Edward and Brett, and Gary Winogrand. (I'm disqualifying Lucien Clergue because anyone who makes a living photographing women on the beach with wet sand up their bum does not deserve to be in this particular hall of fame.)

Anyway ... I happen to own several of Weston's "Nude on the Dunes" pictures (very dry sand) and as well as being some of my favorite pictures, they hang in the hallway between my bedroom and my childrens' rooms. I'm very careful about what art gets hung in my own home but these pictures are so brilliantly conceived and the figure so integrated in to the ground of sand that neither my children or any of the many children who have passed through our house on play-dates have ever given it a second thought. I remember a house featured in a magazine not so long ago where the most provocative, graphic, and X-rated art was hanging on the wall and the couple's young children were pictured romping around in decorative magazine fashion, and I thought there has to be some kind of line, doesn't there?

Anyway back to sand. Aside from Weston's dunes one of the greatest sand pictures is the Australian photographer Max Dupain's "The Sunbaker" (above) taken in 1937, the year after Weston's pictures.

Last in the round-up of sand pictures is Richard Ehrlich (above and below) whose extraordinary pictures taken in 2003 of the Namibian ghost town of Kolmanskop I just recently discovered. In brief, Kolmanskop sprang up in 1908 after diamonds were discovered in the desert sand. By 1920 Kolmanskop was a booming mining town with 300 German expatriates and their families - a hospital, gymnasium, casino, bowling alley, and power station. Houses were built and decorated in beautiful colors with great artistic sensibility, presumably to offset the lonely existence in the middle of the desert. By 1928, however, the diamond deposits dried up and the town was abandoned to the elements. The skeletal remains of the houses are now left to sand and time, with every room constantly shifting and re-emerging as the wind shifts. Wow - talk about earth art!


zenya said...

great photos.

those with the sand filling the rooms remind of pictures by yacek yerka.

Anonymous said...

Dear YIP,
this post makes very elegant realtions between your NY apartment and the Namibian houses, I love your editing.
I approve the choice of the Wynn Bullock's nude, but I prefer the Weston's, they're less aestheticized.
And I agree about the kids awareness of nudes or the so called X-rated photographs, they know perfectly what art is.

Alice Olive said...

The nudes on sand are absolutely beautiful. There is something wonderful about the textures of skin and sand, they go wonderfully together, side by side or melded.

(And yes, I agree, there should be some kind of line drawn!)

Weston's nudes draw your eye to all the different forms and lines in the frame. The textures. The light. I love his Pepper series for the same reasons. I remember reading in his biography that the children complained sometimes those vegetables had been intended for the dinner table!

Anonymous said...

those photographs are beautiful, I love the idea
if you didn't already, I recommend you seeing Suna no onna/Woman in the Dunes it has some amazing photography on the subject

Anonymous said...

I also thought of "Woman in the Dunes" while looking at these Richard Ehrlich photos.

The sands of time.

momo said...

The last set of pictures could illustrate that book The Earth Without Us. How many other houses and cities have been reclaimed by the desert already over the ages?

Jessie Cacciola said...

These are so striking -- sand taking over homes are ironically peaceful in a photograph, and people blending into sand (where you don't see an ocean) is clever.
I love your point of displaying provocative, fine art where there might possibly be children around, and I think there IS a way to get away with it, tastefully. I was in a house a few months ago, and the living room displayed two nude women, but you never would have guessed. One was lying down straight (face down and in foreground, so nothing was visible). The other was draped with a translucent cloth strategically placed with shadows and overlapping.
- Jessie -

Anonymous said...

Erlich's photos are strikingly similar to those by Freeman Patterson, in his book ShadowLight in 1998.

subjectify said...

the Ehrlich photos are unbelievable. amazing. thanks for posting them.