PDN Photo of the Day

Edvard Munch in Black and White

Norwegian artist Edvard Munch is best known for his psychologically gripping paintings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries—first among them “The Scream.” But like many artists of his generation, Munch was also keenly interested in photography. A new show brings together close to 50 of his photographs, prints and films, exploring Munch’s on-again, off-again use of the camera as an expressive, experimental tool. The Scandinavia House show, curated by Patricia G. Berman, offers a look into Munch’s photographic process and personal life, and examines the medium’s role in his relentless drive to translate emotional experience into visual language. It’s on view while a traveling exhibition of the artist’s paintings can be seen nearby, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Munch first took up photography in 1902, well into his career as an artist, and continued using a camera until 1910. Those years were a period of emotional turmoil in his life, which included depression, heavy drinking and a quarrel with a lover that resulted in Munch losing part of two fingers to a gunshot wound. The photographs from that era include self-portraits he made while painting on the beach and posing nude in the woods, and photographs he made at the Copenhagen clinic where he went for a rest cure in 1908 and 1909. There, he photographed his doctor, Daniel Jacobson, and made a portrait of himself as Marat, the French revolutionary famously painted murdered in his bathtub, a scene Munch also addressed in paintings showing his bloody struggle with his lover.

Munch took up photography again in 1927. By then, he was one of the world’s most celebrated artists. He continued to work in the medium until the mid-1930s. After an eye disease left him partially blind in one eye for several years, he made close-up photographs of his own face, playing with angle, pose and light and picturing his head in profile, framed by the sky and the rim of his hat.

Well known as an innovative printmaker, Munch brought the same spirit of experimentation to his photographs. Often his images included a sliver of the platform on which his camera rested, creating a blurry, horizontal element that helped frame his subject. In others, he or the camera deliberately moved during long exposures, creating smeared or ghostly images. Like his paintings and prints, Munch’s photos pushed the medium’s techniques and materials to their expressive limits.

—Rebecca Robertson

“The Experimental 
Self: Edvard Munch’s Photography”
November 21, 2017- March 5, 2018
Scandinavia House
58 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10016

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