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Spirit into Matter: The Photographs of Edmund Teske

June 15 - September 26, 2004


One of the unheralded alchemists of 20th-century American photography, Edmund Teske (1911-1996) created photographs with an almost magical touch, transforming our perception and understanding of the visual world. The new exhibition Spirit into Matter: The Photographs of Edmund Teske, at the Getty Center from June 15 - September 26, 2004, introduces today's audience to Teske's inventive eye in this first comprehensive retrospective of his work, surveying the entire range of the photographer's career.

Drawn chiefly from the Museum's collection, Spirit into Matter includes a large body of prints recently acquired from Teske's heirs. Many of the roughly 128 works on view have never been published or exhibited, including several exquisitely crafted prints from the 1930s that offer a glimpse of Teske's artistic origins as a social documentarian. Also on view are richly evocative figure studies, rhapsodies on nature, views of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture, studies in abstraction, and portraits of Hollywood actors and musicians including Jim Morrison and his partner Pamela Courson. The exhibition is complemented with significant loans from the collections of Laurence Bump, Nils Vidstrand, and Leland Rice and Susan Ehrens.  

The exhibition is accompanied by a 180-page catalogue by Julian Cox, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. Containing approximately 127 illustrations, it is a dynamic source of information on the artist.

Born in Chicago, Teske moved to Los Angeles in 1943 and influenced two generations of artist-photographers active in the area. Over a 60-year period, he created a diverse body of work that revealed his systematic pursuit of artistic freedom. He experimented with darkroom chemistry, sometimes abandoning documentary realism in his quest to explore the more elusive and mysterious aspects of the medium. For Teske, the negative was a resource to be pushed to the limits of its creative potential. His inventive images blurred the lines of reality, evoking the emotional and the spiritual.  

In 1953, Teske devised the technique of duotone solarization.  Prints made in this way are one-of-a-kind creations that rely on the chance behavior of photochemicals when interacting with light in the darkroom. By carefully manipulating his materials, which included exposing the photographic paper to a blast of intense light during development, Teske was able to produce a remarkable palette of spontaneous color effects and dramatic stains and streaks on the surface of the print.    

Teske also experimented with composite printing, in which two or more negatives are combined, either under the enlarger or through successive cycles of copying. Working in this way, he hoped to dispel fixed notions of time and space and reconfigure them into a new reality. This approach grew out of Teske's interest in the philosophy of Vedanta, a branch of Hinduism, which proposes that all aspects of life and nature are connected. Teske began to see that a single, unadulterated image could not sufficiently express his artistic message.  In one of his composite prints, he depicts a figure of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and creation, as a powerful foreground element in combination with a landscape of jagged volcanic tufa formations.  These newly married visual elements become a potent symbol of universal nature, and a meditation on the duality of death and rebirth.  

Teske's adventurous philosophy was shaped early in his career when he was invited to be an honorary fellow at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's residence near Spring Green in Wisconsin. He photographed the architect, the buildings and grounds of Taliesin, and the activities of Wright's fellowship of apprentices. Teske developed a deep understanding of and affinity for Wright's architectural theories, and his photographs echo the architect's desire to integrate interior and exterior forms with the surrounding landscape. His sojourn at Taliesin confirmed his love of experimentation that would mark his life's work.

Spirit into Matter includes photographs from a series Teske called Portrait of My City. These images of Chicago are among his earliest subjects, and include street scenes, industrial and commercial buildings, residences, storefronts, workers, and children. The exhibition also examines Teske's later work that reveals his repeated investigation of the mythology of Shiva and the volcanic landscape of Mono Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Throughout his long career, Teske would also revisit certain themes such as family portraiture, theater and the performing arts, and the self-portrait.  



Spirit into Matter: The Photographs of Edmund Teske

By Julian Cox

This exhibition catalogue should become the standard monograph on Edmund Teske.  Cox, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition, offers an extensive biocritical essay on the photographer, tracing his 60-year career. The book includes a chronology , exhibition history, selected bibliography, and an edited transcript of a conversation with artist George Herms, who was a close friend of Teske's for 30 years.  


All events are free and are held in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium, unless otherwise noted. Seating reservations are required. For reservations and information, please call (310) 440-7300 or visit www.getty.edu .

Edmund Teske's Los Angeles: An Evening of Spoken Word and Conversation
Wednesday, June 23, 7:30 p.m.
Presented by the Getty Research Institute
Photographer Edmund Teske's life and work are intimately connected to the fabric of the city of Los Angeles. During the 1950s and 1960s, Teske was active in the LA avant-garde film, theater, and visual art scenes. This event features readings from Teske's poetry and letters and a discussion among his friends and associates. Scheduled to appear are assemblage artist George Herms, actor Russ Tamblyn, photographer and independent curator Leland Rice, and Teske heirs Nils Vidstrand and Laurence Bump. The discussion is moderated by Julian Cox, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. Limit four seats per reservation. Reservations available beginning May 25 at 9:00 a.m.
Edmund Teske's Los Angeles: Reflections on Film
Friday, June 25, 7:30 p.m.
Presented by the Getty Research Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum
Teske's intensely personal and highly imaginative photography had a significant impact on the local film community, and film had an equally important effect on him. This interchange will be examined through a screening of short films by James and John Whitney, Terry Sanders, and newly restored and seldom seen films by Russ Tamblyn and George Herms. Present at this rare occasion will be figures from both Hollywood and avant-garde circles, including assemblage artist George Herms, actors John Saxon and Russ Tamblyn, and director Terry Sanders. A discussion will follow the screening, which will be moderated by Rani Singh, research associate at the Getty Research Institute. Limit four seats per reservation.  Reservations available beginning May 25 at 9:00 a.m.
Friday, July 23, 7:00 p.m.
Julian Cox, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of Spirit into Matter , talks about the exhibition. Held in the Museum galleries, meet under the stairs in the Museum Entrance Hall.
Thursdays, August 12 and August 19, 1:00?3:00 p.m.
Julian Cox, associate curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition, and Amy Kesselhaut, gallery teacher at the J. Paul Getty Museum, conduct a two-session course related to the exhibition. No experience necessary.
Limited to 25 participants; course fee $20. Held in the Museum galleries.  Reservations available beginning July 23 at 9:00 a.m.
Sunday, September 12, 4:00 p.m.
Lecture by Richard Cándida Smith, professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley.
Friday, July 9
Nils Vidstrand is a fine art and commercial photographer and the co?owner of the Edmund Teske archive.  As Teske's photographic assistant, model, and apprentice for 20 years, he will provide personal insights in Teske's personality and creative process in his talk.


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