Object: Theo Schoon
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Rumsey, Steve (photographer), 13 December 1952, Auckland
|Medium summary||black and white photograph, gelatin silver print|
|Materials||photographic gelatin, silver, photographic paper|
|Classification||portraits, black-and-white prints, gelatin silver prints, black-and-white photographs, works of art|
x 287mm (Length)
Support: 381mm (Height) x 290mm (Length)
|Credit line||Purchased 1998|
This black and white portrait of the artist Theo Schoon was photographed in 1952, the year that he and Steve Rumsey first met. Both men were working at the Mt Albert Plant Research Station in Auckland - Rumsey as a scientific photographer, and Schoon as a farm worker. This particular print was created from the same negative as another photograph of Schoon in Te Papa's collection, although Rumsey has radically cropped the image and heightened the dramatic contrasts of light. In the other print, Schoon sits sideways on a chair, his head turned towards the camera, and an out-of-focus background is visible behind him. The different approach used in this print is striking: Schoon's face and upper body loom out of a dark background without detail, the lighting striking the left side of the subject's face and leaving the right side in shadow.
The eye of the artist
This dramatic portrait of Schoon has a strong relationship with a portrait of Michael Illingworth taken by Rumsey a decade later. Titled The eye of the artist, the portrait of Illingworth was intended to illustrate the artist's exhibition catalogue at the Ikon Gallery in Auckland in 1963. Even more dramatic than Schoon, Illingworth looms out of the darkness, his face lit dramatically from the right in the same way as Schoon's, the left side in shadow, except for his eye - which catches the light. As the title suggests, Rumsey's photograph is a construction of artistic identity. Illingworth is presented as a seer - someone who sees the world in dramatic terms and interprets his vision through his art. Rumsey's portrait of Schoon works in the same way - the neutral gaze of the man shown sitting on a chair in one photograph is transformed into the dramatic and penetrating gaze of an artist capable of showing us the world in unfamiliar terms.
An unfinished exhibition
Soon after they met in 1952, Rumsey became involved in a project to print Schoon's own photographs for a proposed exhibition at the Auckland City Art Gallery. In a letter written in 2002 and now in the Te Papa Archives, Rumsey wrote: '[Schoon] approached me to see if I would make proof prints for him from negatives he had taken of South Island "cave drawings" and Rotorua geothermal studies, which I did. He was obviously a person of great aesthetic discretion and we subsequently spent many hours discussing aspects of photography, and art.' While this exhibition never happened, Rumsey did get to see Schoon's work in detail, and his portrait of Schoon pays homage to Schoon's talents and status as a creative individual.
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