Saturday, 20 March 2010

Robert Cumming


A few weeks ago I was sent a link to the work of Caleb Charland who produces black-and-white photographs of pseudo-experiments and strange Heath Robinsonesque constructions using light, magnets, water and various other objects and materials. I was immediately struck by the similarities between Charland's work and the work of Robert Cumming who was very active in the 1970s West Coast American conceptual art scene.


I was lucky enough to see an exhibition of Robert Cumming's work at MoMA in New York in 1996 and whilst there I also bought a copy of the exhibition catalogue. Unfortunately Cummings work is fairly poorly represented in history books and monographs on his work are very rare so I often find myself lending my catalogue to students.

Lending books to people is a risky business at the best of times but when it's a book that you're particularly fond of there's a real disincentive to let it out of your sight. I've lost numerous books and DVDs in this way over the years, so I'm now in the habit of looking artists up on the Internet and sending students web links rather than lending out my precious book collection. It's not an ideal situation because the materiality, structure and precision of books is inevitably lost when they're translated into a crude set of online images. However, when the choice is between a pale simulacrum or nothing at all, I think most of us would prefer the former.


When I looked up Robert Cumming online I was both surprised and disappointed to find that there's barely anything available at all. As a student I remember seeing several images of Cumming's work in different books and exhibitions and being really inspired by the inventive and quirky charm of his images. Hopefully the following may go some way to at least giving a vague impression of what a remarkable image maker Robert Cumming was in the prime of his engagement with photography.





3 comments:

Roy Hammans said...

Good to see the work of Robert Cumming mentioned. As you note, there is virtually nothing about him available on the web.

His diptych called 'Two Explanations for a Split Pond' (if memory serves...) has always been an image engraved on my memory, ever since I first saw it in Creative Camera magazine back in the 1970s.

J. Hamlyn said...

Hi Roy,

Yes your memory is correct 'Two Explanations for a Small Split Pond' is another another great signature piece of Cumming's. I did scan it with the intention of posting it here too but it evidently slipped-the-net (if that's not mixing metaphors). I'll add it right now.

Thanks for jogging my memory.

Jim

robinlamkie said...

I often remember this photographer whose work I saw in the magazine Camera? 30+- years ago. I remember his diagram a sentence on a billboard and his setups. Last week after seeing The Clock at LACMA I wondered around the museum. A light went off when I walked into the Annenberg room and saw Robert's pictures from Universal Studio. I knew he was the lost photographer whose name I could never remember.
What a treat I thought, to be able to look him up on the web but there is not much out there.
Thanks for posting some of the pictures I have remembered all this time.
Oh, I wish I had kept those magazines.
Robin Lamkie

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