The Tate Modern's Edvard Munch exhibit reminds us he was ahead of his time as a painter and shows how his photography helped move his art forward
One of the surprises in “Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye” is the Norwegian painter’s photography. The absence of his best known painting, “The Scream,” shifts the attention to his lesser known work. One of the surprises is the modern eye of the title refers partly to his experiments with photography and how they helped inspire his paintings.
His ghostly double exposures and blurry long exposures will immediately strike a chord with Lomographers. You can see him experimenting, committing what others might have considered mistakes, but Munch is intentionally creating images that could only exist on film.
Munch was an intermittent photographer, first shooting with a Kodak Bulls-Eye No. 2 pocket camera in 1902 that he used it for about eight years. He intentionally broke the rules of conventional photography. The curators suggest the blurred shots may have fed his fascination auras, which show up in the wavy lines surrounding figures in some of his most famous works.
When hung alongside his paintings, you can see how their radical perspectives echo his photos.
In 1926, his interest in photography was renewed and he bought a Kodak Pocket Vest Camera for himself and another for his sister. The camera was 2.5 cm thick when folded. He used it for about six years along with a small Pathé Baby-Cine film camera.
A third of his surviving photos are self-portraits. Sometimes they were casual at other times, they were carefully staged. He anticipated the way we now hold our cameras at arms length to shoot self portraits or sometimes walked into the shot during long exposures. He shot himself at a three quarters angle, aiming to create self portraits that would allow Munch to see himself the way he never could in a mirror.
Other favourite subjects include his dog Fips and a favourite were his paintings, which he sometimes referred to as his children and were sometimes pictured sitting outdoors.
Munch is well-known for being ahead ahead of his time as a painter. But he may also have been as a photographer too, anticipating where we are a century later and analogue photography is about more than simply documenting our surroundings. Munch may just have been a proto-Lomographer.
The Modern Eye runs until October 14, 2012. Visit Tate Modern for more info.