Daily Art Moment: Victor Jorgensen

Victor Jorgenson, Untitled (relieved of their long ordeal and still in battle helmets, the exhausted crew sleeps) size: 10.5x10.5 inches, gelatin silver print. A square, black-and-white photograph of six young male soldiers lying asleep on the deck of a ship. The soldiers are viewed from above and are positioned diagonally across the photo with their heads towards the top right and feet towards the bottom left. At far left, one soldier lies on his side near the other soldier’s feet. He is positioned vertically in the photo with his head near top left. They lay on their sides with their knees drawn up or on their backs and are fully clothed in khakis, boots, and sometimes helmets. The decking beneath them runs diagonally and parallel to the men. The photo captures portions of other soldiers also sleeping suggesting a crowded deck of sleeping men.

“This month marks the 75th anniversary of the final phase of World War II in the Pacific Theater, a particularly tragic and destructive moment in our world’s history. You can see this photo, taken during World War II, in person now that the Museum is open Thursdays through Sundays. It’s included in the exhibition ‘Though There Be Fury on the Waves: Victor Jorgensen at Sea, 1943-1945,’ which was open to the public for only four hours last March before closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. One section of the exhibition features Jorgensen’s photographs of sleeping American sailors.

Exhaustion at war increased the potential for harmful or fatal mistakes, but restorative rest at sea was infrequent, and the inconsistent rhythms of battle required sailors to sleep whenever and wherever opportunities arose. Jorgensen regularly documented sleeping men, sometimes alone but often together in intimate groupings, their unguarded youth and physical fragility seemingly vulnerable to any threat.

Famed modernist photographer Edward Steichen, who photographed with Jorgensen in 1943, described sleep aboard the USS Lexington in his 1947 book ‘The Blue Ghost’: ‘The men, in small groups, are sprawled around the deck; some choose the hot sun on the open deck, others park themselves in the shade of a plane’s wing; they pillow up for each other in a fine earthly fellowship, reminiscent of colts resting under a tree or alongside the fence of a pasture, the head of one colt draped over the neck of another, or again, something in the manner of a litter of puppies, all curled up over, under, and about each other. During easy-going days and hours like these, the battle reports we receive from active combat areas seem as unreal and remote as they seem to most people who live beyond the reach of the enemy’s instruments of war.’ “

Julia Dolan, The Minor White Curator of Photography

Victor Jorgensen (American, 1914–1994). Untitled (relieved of their long ordeal and still in battle helmets, the exhausted crew sleeps), 1943. Gelatin silver print. Gift of Victoria Jorgensen Carman and Lee Jorgensen, 2019.79.49, public domain

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