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Moholy-Nagy, Climbing the Mast

László Moholy-Nagy, Climbing the Mast, 1928, gelatin silver print, 5.4 x 28 cm or 13 15/16 x 11 inches (Metropolitan Museum of Art) Speakers: Dr. Juliana Kreinik and Dr. Vanessa Rocco View this on Smarthistory.org: http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/laszlo-moholy-nagy-climbing-the-mast.html. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • leaf grey style avatar for user Michœl
    I do not understand how this "worms eye view" is making a political statement. Can anyone clarify this?
    (4 votes)
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    • sneak peak yellow style avatar for user LateSparrow
      Actually at @ the speaker says that with Moholy a lot of times the subject matter is RARELY overtly political. For the most part for him it was more about expanding the perception of the viewers. This image is not political, the worms eye view just shows a different point of view and dramatic perspective, which was uncommon at the time. László Mololy-Nagy's work was all about graphic principles and perception, which probably isn't so interesting to the average viewer, but for a practicing artists these are all invaluable tools to be able to communicate visually.
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Margaret Moon
    Did this photographer belong to an art movement? I am studying visual art and culture and am currently reading about representation and its relationship to expressionist art.
    (4 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user Fabian Reus
    In a case like this, would Moholy-Nagy have carefully planned in advance and staged the photograph or would it have been more of a "snapshot"?
    (2 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Cysha
      Based on what I observed, I would assume that he staged the photograph. His work took a lot of detail and craftsmanship in them (including paintings and other photographs.) I feel like Moholy-Nagy is not a very "spontaneous" kind of person.
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Andrew Jones
    Is it possible to remove the overlaid text from the videos?
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Rayana Fisher
    Why is the human figure put in this particular angle ?
    (0 votes)
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    • sneak peak yellow style avatar for user LateSparrow
      The main focus of this image is the foreshortening, perspective, to make us feel how high the person is climbing. If he were to take the picture from the side, most of the mast wold have been cut off and the image wouldn't be this dramatic.
      (3 votes)

Video transcript

(soft piano music) Female 1: We're in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and we're lookin at Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's, Climbing the Mast from 1928. It's a gelatin silver print, and it's pretty amazing. Female 2: It is amazing and shows one of the things that he was known for with his new vision photography over the use worm's-eye and bird's-eye views. This is a classic way to see what he meant by worm's-eye view. This unexpected angle that you get of the climber on the mast. It's kind of jarring and makes you stop in your tracks because it's not the kind of positioning that you would normal expect with a straight photograph. Female 1: He's taken the worm's-eye view very literally and ends up ending our expectation. Female 2: He was always hoping that by giving us these unexpected or what was often called oblique angles that would lead us to think deeply about what were looking at. You have a figure, a human figure. I actually can't tell if it's male or female. Can you? Female 1: Not really. I mean, it's just not important. Female 2: It's just an athletic body climbing up to rig up a sail boat, and you get this also interesting shadow of the rope ladder and the figure reflected on the sail that's been rigged. You see it from directly underneath these almost disembodied looking legs and the bottoms of the feet staring at you right in the face. Female 1: It's a totally shortened figure, and it takes a moment and you finally see this head peeking through the legs kind of looking at him making eye contact. Female 2: Then you have the wonderful wooden mast of the ship slicing through the center of the composition. You can also see that he has great eye for compositional elements. Female 1: I think there's really a strong sense of geometry as well. Everything is divided into sections. If you wanted to you could take apart the entire thing and kind of piece it back together. There's also a rhythm he sets up visually between textures, between light and dark, between shadows, between fabric and wood, and especially the legs, which are really smooth, and the smoothness of the wood that travels all the way up. Everything is just sort of lifting us up into this. Female 2: It creates the dynamism of motion and movement swooping you into the composition. We became very convinced that photography was going to be the new language of the masses. He actually started to refer to things like photo-literacy, that if you didn't know how to read images you were going to be the new illiterate. Female 1: Photography was a definite weapon for them in terms of communication, in terms of revolutionary messages, in terms of art. Here it's Moholy playing with perspective, and playing with perception, and playing with our vision, and really forcing us to look at things from a different point of view. Female 2: Yes, absolutely. With Moholy a lot of times, the subject matter, it's rarely overtly political. For the most part for him it was more about expanding the perception of the viewers that would allow them to engage with those new modern language. It was for the masses. It was political but not overtly so. Some like [Rachanko] would use these oblique jarring angles, but he would almost always have subject matter that was also political, demonstrations, you know, Little Pioneer Girl, with Moholy it was more this general formulation still very modern life materiel. Especially, the athleticism of the figure, a real symbol of modernity that he's injected that aspect of modern life. Female 1: A temporary figure that we're looking at. Female 2: Yes, inarguable contemporary. (soft piano music)