John Swope (1908–79), a Hollywood photographer who had previously collaborated with the writer John Steinbeck on a book about aviation cadets, traveled to Japan in late summer 1945 with the U.S. Navy to photograph the release of Allied prisoners of war. Driven by a desire to understand the country that Americans perceived as a threat, Swope also took pictures of Japanese civilians during his three-and-a-half-week journey, utilizing his personal charm and his unusual Navy-issued camera (a Rolleiflex which was held at waist level, leaving the photographer’s face unhidden) to interact with his subjects. In a running letter to his wife, the actress Dorothy McGuire, Swope wrote, “With a camera and a desire to take pictures it is very difficult not to talk with them, befriend them, and try and find out more about them.” Swope’s correspondence with his wife provides commentary for more than 75 photos from his trip displayed in “A Letter from Japan: the Photographs of John Swope.” Organized by UCLA’s HammerMuseum and accompanied by a 256-page catalogue ($45.00), the exhibition is in the BlockMuseum’s Main Gallery September 19 to November 30.
Born in Eastern Europe in 1933, Samuel Bak suffered the ravages of the Holocaust as a child. His paintings and drawings continually address the traumas experienced by Bak and other European Jews of the time. “Drawn from Memory: Holocaust and History in the Art of Samuel Bak” in the Block’s Print, Drawing, and Photography Study Center September 19 through November 30, focuses on the artist’s incorporation of iconography from historical and modern art, such as his frequent invocation of the brooding winged figure from Albrecht Dürer’s 1514 print “Melencolia.” Bak’s appropriations evoke displacement and loss and become metaphors of the ruptures he has lived through, as well as universal symbols of suffering. This exhibition is organized by the BlockMuseum with cooperation from the Pucker Gallery, Boston.
The Block has organized a number of programs to complement these exhibitions; unless noted, all of the following are free of charge.
– BlockMuseum docents lead tours of the John Swope exhibition at Saturdays from
September 27 to November 29.
– Tours of the Magdalena Abakanowicz and Samuel Bak exhibitions will take place at
Sundays from September 28 to November 30. Tours of the Magdalena Abakanowicz exhibition only will be offered at Saturdays and Sundays from December 6 to December 14.
– At Friday, September 26, “A Letter from Japan” curator Carolyn Peter, director
of the LabandArtGallery at LoyolaMarymountUniversity, Los Angeles, will address John Swope’s work in the context of photographic war documentation in the lecture “The Artist at War: John Swope and the History of War Photography.”
– At Wednesday, October 8 and Wednesday, November 12, Block Cinema will screen
short propaganda films created for the U.S. government during World War II.
– During the family program “Pinhole Cameras” from to Sunday, October 12,
children and their parents will tour the John Swope exhibition and create their own pinhole cameras. The cost for the family program is $5 per family (free for BlockMuseum members) and reservations are required. E-mail email@example.com.
– At Wednesday, October 29, Jeffry Diefendorf, Pamela Shulman Professor in European and Holocaust Studies at the University of New Hampshire, will deliver the lecture “Dialogues with the Past and Present: the Vivid World of Samuel Bak.”
– At Thursday, November 6, BlockMuseum curator Corinne Granof will present “Abakanowicz and Chicago,” a program about the “Reality of Dreams” exhibition and “Agora,” Magdalena Abakanowicz’s sculptural installation in Chicago’s Grant Park.
“A Letter from Japan: The Photographs of John Swope” and its catalogue are generously supported by Gail and Jerry Oppenheimer, with additional support from Mrs. Sidney F. Brody, The Judith Rothschild Foundation, Shirlee Fonda, and Jane Wyatt. Support for the BlockMuseum’s fall exhibitions and programming is provided by the Alsdorf Endowment; Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; Myers Foundations; Rubens Family Foundation; and Terra Foundation for American Art.
For more information regarding BlockMuseum exhibitions, programs or location, phone (847) 491-4000 or go to the BlockMuseum website at www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.