Archive for the 'Carleton Watkins' Category

12
Aug
14

Exhibition: ‘Carelton Watkins: The Stanford Albums’ at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

Exhibition dates: 23rd April – 17th August 2014

 

Who would you put in your top eleven photographers of all time?

(in no particular order)

  • Minor White
  • Eugene Atget
  • Frederick Sommer
  • Carelton Watkins
  • Julia Margaret Cameron
  • Walker Evans
  • Edward Weston
  • Lee Friedlander
  • Manuel Alvarez Bravo
  • Diane Arbus
  • Paul Strand

and then it gets a bit more difficult…

Is it a Josef Sudek, Robert Adams, Aaron Siskind, Man Ray, Berenice Abbott, Helen Levitt, Emmet Gowin, William Clift, Ernest Cole, William Eggleston, Lee Friedlander, Cindy Sherman, Charles Marville, Vivian Maier, Saul Leiter and suggestions from others - André Kertész, Josef Koudelka, Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edouard Boubat, Paul Caponigro, etc …

 

What is more interesting is to ask:

Who are the interesting photographers anywhere who are alive now?

And my answer would be: there are very few who are alive now that are interesting.

That is – by looking at the ideas that are present in poetry, music, philosophy or even politics – who is there that is truly taking these ideas forward (or ideas that are as interesting).

Or who is arranging images with the elegance of a Sommer or an Atget or the dynamics of Arbus

= few if any.

In other words whose acts am I hanging upon, so that I am waiting with great anticipation to see what they are going to do next.

Only a few is my answer.

 

Which living photographers would I walk a mile to see their work?

= some (eg Lee Friedlander, Wolfgang Tillmans)

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Which living Australian photographers would I walk an hour in the hot January sun to see?

= possibly two (Bill Henson, Rosemary Laing)

 

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

PS. Just look at Cape Horn, near Celilo (1867, below). You are not likely to see a more magnificent landscape photograph than this.

 

Many thankx to the Cantor Arts Center for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Sugar Loaf Islands and Seal Rocks, Farallons' 1868-1869

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Sugar Loaf Islands and Seal Rocks, Farallons
1868-1869
From the album Photographs of the Pacific Coast
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries.

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Devils' Cañon Geysers, Looking Up' c. 1867

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Devils’ Cañon Geysers, Looking Up
c. 1867
From the album Photographs of the Pacific Coast
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Devils' Cañon Geysers, Looking Up' (detail) c. 1867

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Devils’ Cañon Geysers, Looking Up (detail)
c. 1867
From the album Photographs of the Pacific Coast
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries.

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Alcatraz from North Point' 1862–1863

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Alcatraz from North Point
1862–1863
From the album Photographs of the Pacific Coast
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'The Wreck of the Viscata' March 1868

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
The Wreck of the Viscata
March 1868
From the album Photographs of the Pacific Coast
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Magenta Flume Nevada Co. Cal.' c. 1871

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Magenta Flume Nevada Co. Cal.
c. 1871
From the album Photographs of the Pacific Coast
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Flour and Woolen Mills, Oregon City' 1867

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Flour and Woolen Mills, Oregon City
1867
From the album Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon
Albumen print. Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Cape Horn, Columbia River' 1867

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Cape Horn, Columbia River
1867
From the album Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Mt. Hood and the Dalles, Columbia River' 1867

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Mt. Hood and the Dalles, Columbia River
1867
From the album Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Cape Horn, near Celilo' 1867

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Cape Horn, near Celilo
1867
From the album Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'The Yosemite Valley from the "Best General View"' 1866

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
The Yosemite Valley from the “Best General View”
1866
From the album Photographs of the Yosemite Valley
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Cathedral Rocks, 2630 ft., Yosemite' 1865-1866

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Cathedral Rocks, 2630 ft., Yosemite
1865-1866
From the album Photographs of the Yosemite Valley
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Pompompasos, the Three Brothers, Yosemite 4480 ft.' 1865-1866

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Pompompasos, the Three Brothers, Yosemite 4480 ft.
1865-1866
From the album Photographs of the Yosemite Valley
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Mirror View of the North Dome, Yosemite' 1865-1866

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Mirror View of the North Dome, Yosemite
1865-1866
From the album Photographs of the Yosemite Valley
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

 

“Born in upstate New York, Carleton Watkins (1829-1916) ventured west in 1849 to strike it rich. But instead of prospecting for gold, Watkins developed a talent for photography – a medium invented only 22 years before. He documented the remote Pacific Coast in the 1860s and 1870s, capturing its vast scale and spirit with a custom-built camera that created “mammoth” 18 x 22-inch glass-plate negatives. In June 1864, his stunning photographs of Yosemite’s valley, waterfalls and peaks proved instrumental in convincing President Abraham Lincoln and the 38th U.S. Congress to pass the Yosemite Valley Grant Act, legislation that preserved the land for public use and set a precedent for America’s National Park System.

As the nation celebrates the 150th Anniversary of the Yosemite Grant, the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University presents Carleton Watkins: The Stanford Albums, an exhibition featuring more than 80 original mammoth prints from three unique albums of Watkins’s work: Photographs of the Yosemite Valley (1861 and 1865-66), Photographs of the Pacific Coast (1862-76), and Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon (1867 and 1870). The exhibition will be on view April 23 through August 17, 2014. Also featured will be cartographic visualizations developed in collaboration with Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis and the Bill Lane Center for the American West, which provide dynamic context for the geography and natural history of Watkins’s photographs. A fully illustrated publication will accompany the exhibition.

“The Cantor is thrilled to be leading such an innovative, interdisciplinary effort to look at Watkins’s work anew,” says Connie Wolf, the Cantor’s John & Jill Freidenrich Director. “These extraordinary albums from Stanford University Libraries’ singular collection provide us with an unparalleled opportunity to examine Watkins’s place in the history of photography, and to more fully understand the critical role photography played in the preservation, promotion, and development of the West. It is fascinating to note that Watkins and Leland Stanford were contemporaries. Watkins even photographed Stanford’s family, making this university a proud and apt home for these albums.”

 

The Albums

Photographs of the Yosemite Valley (1861 and 1865-66)

In 1861, Watkins loaded up a team of mules with nearly a ton of photographic equipment including a mobile darkroom tent, a dangerous assortment of flammable chemicals, and an enormous custom-built camera that produced “mammoth” 18 x 22-inch glass-plate negatives. He headed 75 miles into the rugged and remote Yosemite Valley on a sometimes perilous journey to capture the natural wonders of the Sierra Nevada. The technical challenges of creating wet-plate negatives in the field were immense. Dust and grit could easily ruin the work as the plates were coated, exposed for up to an hour, and developed. Water had to be carried great distances. The sun warped and shrank camera parts. But the resulting suite of photographs became an international sensation – not only because they provided virtual access to one of America’s grandest wilderness areas but also for their extraordinary beauty. The New York Times declared in 1862 that “as specimens of the photographic art they are unequaled.”

Watkins’s album Photographs of the Yosemite Valley is sequenced to replicate the experience of entering the Mariposa Grove trail and traveling into the valley. From Cathedral Rocks to Half Dome, Watkins captures the quiet majesty of Yosemite’s natural monuments. The album contains images from both his initial expedition in 1861 and a subsequent visit as an ad hoc member of the California State Geological Survey team in 1865-66. Throughout his career, Watkins maintained close relationships with geologists as well as botanists who were deeply interested in his documentation of native tree species.

In Yosemite, Watkins found a spectacular natural laboratory for testing and refining his approach to landscape photography. His compositional choices were unique. In The Yosemite Valley from the “Best General View” (1866), for instance, Watkins cropped off the top of the lone tree in the foreground instead of framing it, lending a painterly quality to the image. By manipulating focus and perspective, Watkins also achieved an unusual balance of crispness against softer tonalities.

Watkins’s technical achievements under adverse conditions were unmatched and astonished his peers. The resolution of his photographs still rivals that of the high-end digital cameras of today. After 1861, capitalizing on the success of his Yosemite pictures and his reputation as a landscape photographer, Watkins renamed his studio at 425 Montgomery Street in San Francisco the “Yo-Semite Gallery.” The exhibition features more than 30 photographs from the album Photographs of the Yosemite Valley including various views of Yosemite Valley; mountains and rock formations such as Cathedral Rocks, Half Dome, and El Capitan; waterfalls and water views such as Mirror Lake and Yosemite Falls; and photographs of Yosemite’s majestic trees.

Photographs of the Pacific Coast (1862-76)

Watkins made his living mostly as a field photographer for hire, accepting commissions from logging companies and mining operations up and down the coast. Early in his career, Watkins’s photographs were often used to attract investors or as documentation in court evidence for land disputes. In the fast-developing West, photography was a means of establishing ‘truth claims’ to property and resource rights. And in a region where vast swaths of territory were rarely traveled by city dwellers, photography filled in the gaps.

Watkins added images from these underwritten trips to an album he called Photographs of the Pacific Coast. Along with his commercial photographs of smelting works at the New Almaden Mine in Santa Clara County and the hydraulic North Bloomfield mine in Nevada County, the album contains remarkable vistas of San Francisco including a dramatic photograph of the shipwreck Viscata on Ocean Beach, also images of the Devil’s Canyon geysers in Sonoma County and the Farallon Islands.

The album also includes images commissioned by California’s sixth governor, Milton Slocum Latham, of Latham’s mansion on San Francisco’s Rincon Hill. It was, in fact, Latham’s wife, Mollie, who commissioned the three albums now at Stanford. One of the original bindings is on display so visitors can appreciate its massive size and ornate details. With the Civil War raging in the eastern part of the country until 1865, Watkins’s images of the pristine Pacific Coast must have provided Americans a welcome alternative to the images of carnage issuing from the battlefield.

In the exhibition, there are more than 20 California photographs from the album Photographs of the Pacific Coast including scenes of San Francisco neighborhoods, homes, and natural sites including the Farallon Islands; commissioned images of mining operations; and views of Mt. Shasta, Mendocino County, and Sonoma County.

Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon (1867 and 1870)

While Watkins’s name is most closely associated with Yosemite, photographers often cite Watkins’s album Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon as his crowning artistic achievement. No longer a novice, Watkins demonstrates mastery of his craft and a keen eye for composition in these images. A friend at the Oregon Steam Navigation Company arranged for Watkins to travel by rail up and down the Columbia River to photograph the company’s rail portages and scenic beauty to document the company’s progress. Watkins was the first to photograph this area and traveled for four months to do so.

In the resulting views of Portland, Oregon City, rail portages, river industry, and scenery, Watkins made art of the river landscapes and the railroad laid alongside it. Cape Horn, Near Celilo (1867), taken at the final point of his journey where the tracks ended, shows a stark horizon, suggesting both the far edge of the world and the determination of early industrial pioneers. In Mt. Hood and the Dalles, Columbia River (1867), a spectacular view of Mt. Hood and of the meandering river at the base of basalt cliffs is disrupted by the object of greatest focus – a tiny white outbuilding for the railroad.

The exhibition features more than 15 photographs from the album Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon including views along the Columbia River of Cape Horn, Castle Rock and Mt. Hood; and images of Portland, Oregon City, and smaller towns and industries along the railroad.

Exploring Watkins’s Photographs with Digital Technology

Stanford’s Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis, the Bill Lane Center for the American West, the Branner Earth Sciences Library, and the Cantor worked together to create an innovative cartographic digital accompaniment for each album.

For Photographs of Yosemite Valley, the team – including select students – generated “viewsheds” of several of Watkins’s photographs that enable visitors to see where each was likely taken and what topographical elements are either illuminated or obscured in them. With Photographs of the Pacific Coast, fascinating before-and-after visualizations illustrate the incredible changes in the landscape of San Francisco over the last century and a half. Lastly, a cartographic accompaniment to Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon details the early railroad routes Watkins traveled to take his photographs.

Carleton Eugene Watkins (1829-1916)

Born in upstate New York in 1829, Watkins ventured west to look for opportunities and settled in the Bay Area in 1852. While working for a photography studio, he was asked to step in for a photographer who had unexpectedly quit. Watkins quickly learned the daguerreotype process and within two years he was making ambrotypes and wet-plate collodion photographs.

Throughout his career, Watkins documented the remote American West, generating more than 7,000 photographs of its most majestic wilderness sites as well as the dramatic transformation of isolated territories caused by logging and mining industries. His photographs won awards throughout the United States and abroad. With his early success, he established a gallery in San Francisco on prestigious Montgomery Street in 1861.

But Watkins’s fortunes took a turn with the 1874 failure of the Bank of California and the resulting economic panic. Heavily in debt at the time, Watkins had to declare bankruptcy and lost both the gallery and the majority of his negatives to a competitor. Watkins rebuilt his inventory, continuing to travel and work into the 1890s, but never recovered financially. At one point he and his family lived in a rail car in Oakland. Watkins’s health also declined, and by 1903 he was nearly blind. Watkins died tragically. The 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed his studio and his life’s work, and he never got over the shock. His family eventually had him committed to Napa State Hospital. He died there in 1916.”

Press release from the Cantor Arts Center website

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Cape Horn, Columbia River' 1867

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Cape Horn, Columbia River
1867
From the album Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Arch at the West End, Farallones' 1868-1869

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Arch at the West End, Farallones
1868-1869
From the album Photographs of the Pacific Coast
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Multnomah Falls, Columbia River, Oregon' 1867

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Multnomah Falls, Columbia River, Oregon
1867
From the album Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Multnomah Falls, Cascades, Columbia River' 1867

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Multnomah Falls, Cascades, Columbia River
1867
From the album Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Pohono, the Bridal Veil, Yosemite 900 ft.' 1865-1866

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Pohono, the Bridal Veil, Yosemite 900 ft.
1865-1866
From the album Photographs of the Yosemite Valley
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'The Lower Yosemite Fall, Yosemite' 1865-1866

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
The Lower Yosemite Fall, Yosemite
1865-1866
From the album Photographs of the Yosemite Valley
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'The Yosemite Falls, 2634 ft.' 1865-1866

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
The Yosemite Falls, 2634 ft.
1865-1866
From the album Photographs of the Yosemite Valley
Albumen print. Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Mirror View of El Capitan, Yosemite' 1865-1866

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Mirror View of El Capitan, Yosemite
1865-1866
From the album Photographs of the Yosemite Valley
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Washington Column, 2082 ft., Yosemite' 1865-1866

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Washington Column, 2082 ft., Yosemite
1865-1866
From the album Photographs of the Yosemite Valley
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'The Ponderosa, Yosemite' 1866

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
The Ponderosa, Yosemite
1866
From the album Photographs of the Yosemite Valley
Albumen print
Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916) 'Section of the Grizzly Giant, 33 ft. diameter' 1865-1866

 

Carleton Watkins (U.S.A., 1829-1916)
Section of the Grizzly Giant, 33 ft. diameter
1865-1866
From the album Photographs of the Yosemite Valley
Albumen print. Lent by Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

 

 

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5060
T: 650-723-4177

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
Thursday 11 am – 8 pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University website

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24
Dec
13

Exhibition: ‘A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’ at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC

Exhibition dates: 28th June 2013 – 5th January 2014
1st floor West, American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.)

Browse the exhibition and related works on the exhibition website

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The next two weeks sees a lot of exhibitions finish their run on the 5th January 2014.

Here is a bumper posting which contains one of my favourite photographs of all time: Danny Lyon’s Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville (1966, below). From a distance, this looks to be a very interesting exhibition on a large topic, delineated for the viewer into four main sections. The task of the curator cannot have been easy, picking 113 images to represent a “democracy” of images out of a collection of over 7,000 images. Of course there can never be a true “democracy” of images as some will always be more valued within our culture than others. There is a meritocracy in this exhibition which features images by masters of the medium but this is balanced by the inclusion of images by anonymous photographers, little known photographers and vernacular and street photography.

What is most impressive is the specially developed website which includes many images from the different sections of the exhibition. These images are of good quality and, along with relevant text, help the viewer place the images in context. Related content is also suggested from the full photographic collection at The Smithsonian which has been placed online with good image quality. This is a far cry from many exhibitions at state galleries in Australia where there are hardly any dedicated exhibition websites. Most of the photographic collection from these galleries is not available online and if it has been scanned, the image quality is generally poor. How many times have I searched a state gallery or library collection and come up with the answer: “Image not available” ?

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Many thankx to the Smithsonian American Art Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs and text in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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“More often, though, the moments, places, people and views that have been collected here feel offhand and stumbled upon, telling a fragmentary, incomplete tale. Sometimes it’s literally a glance, as in “Girl Holding Popsicle,” a 1972 image by Mark Cohen, who rarely even looked through his viewfinder. Other times, it’s more like a long stare, as in William Christenberry’s 1979 “China Grove Church – Hale County, Alabama,” a locale that the Washington-based artist and Alabama native returned to again and again. These 113 pictures are, at the same time, quietly telling, revealing bits of America in oblique, prismatic ways.”

Part of Michael O’Sullivan’s review of the exhibition in The Washington Post.

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American Characters

Photographers have captured the texture of everyday life since the medium’s arrival in the United States in 1839. Photographic portraits have made both the iconic and the commonplace serve as stand-ins for all of us, forging a shared language of political and social understanding. In charting the passing parade of history – the faces of the anonymous and the famous; evolving stories of immigration, disenfranchisement, and assimilation; as well as emblematic objects and celebrated landmarks lodged within our collective memory – photographs reveal the complexities of America.

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Unidentified artist. '[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]' c. 1855

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Unidentified artist
[Bird in Basin with Thread Spool and Patterned Cloth]
c. 1855
Daguerreotype
Plate: 2 3/4 x 3 1/4 in. (6.9 x 8.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.193

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Larry Sultan (born New York City 1946 - died Greenbrae, CA 2009) 'Portrait of My Father with Newspaper' 1988

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Larry Sultan (born New York City 1946 – died Greenbrae, CA 2009)
Portrait of My Father with Newspaper
1988
Chromogenic print
Image: 28 5/8 x 34 5/8 in. (72.7 x 87.9 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Nan Tucker McEvoy, 1989.58
© 1988, Larry Sultan

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In Portrait of My Father with Newspaper, Irving Sultan reads the Los Angeles Times as light pours in behind him. This carefully composed portrait reveals the artist’s father almost entirely through reflections and shadows. Thin newsprint shields his body from the camera, while only a vague profile of his face is discernible on the right half of the spread. Prompted by the discovery of a box of home movies, Larry Sultan embarked on an eight-year enquiry into his parents’ lives. He stayed in their home for weeks at a time, interviewing them about their marriage and photographing their domestic activities.

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Eugene Richards (born Boston, MA 1944) 'Untitled (Dorchester, Mass.)' 1975

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Eugene Richards (born Boston, MA 1944)
Untitled (Dorchester, Mass.)
1975
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 x 12 in. (20.3 x 30.5 cm) sheet: 11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.1168
© 1974, Eugene Richards

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Mark Cohen (born Wilkes-Barre, PA 1943) 'Girl Holding Popsicle' 1972, printed 1983

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Mark Cohen (born Wilkes-Barre, PA 1943)
Girl Holding Popsicle
1972, printed 1983
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 14 x 17 in. (35.5 x 43.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dene and Mel Garbow, 1992.73.4
© 1972, Mark Cohen

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In Girl Holding Popsicle a young girl twists shyly as she poses before a graffiti-inscribed brick wall. Mark Cohen took this photograph spontaneously as he passed through a back alley. Cohen does not hesitate to get assertively close to the strangers he meets in his hometown of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Many of his photographs are made without looking through a viewfinder, and so remain a mystery even to Cohen until they are developed.

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Unidentified artist. '[Gold Nugget]' c. 1860s

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Unidentified artist
[Gold Nugget]
c. 1860s
Albumen silver print
Image: 2 1/8 x 3 5/8 in. (5.4 x 9.2 cm) sheet: 2 3/8 x 3 7/8 in. (6.1 x 9.8 cm) irregular
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2006.36.1

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Mathew B. Brady (born Lake George, NY 1823 - died New York City 1896) 'Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865' 1865, printed early 1880s

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Mathew B. Brady (born Lake George, NY 1823 – died New York City 1896)
Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865
1865, printed early 1880s
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 6 1/2 x 9 in. (16.5 x 22.9 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment, 2007.6

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Kevin Bubriski (born North Adams, MA 1954) 'World Trade Center Series, New York City' 2001

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Kevin Bubriski (born North Adams, MA 1954)
World Trade Center Series, New York City
2001
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18 x 18 in. (45.7 x 45.7 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 2003.65.1
© 2001, Kevin Bubriski

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In the weeks and months following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, Kevin Bubriski photographed people who gathered at Ground Zero. Frozen in awe, struck with disbelief, and overcome with loss, people stood before the destroyed building site to confront the horrible tragedy. More than ten years later, Bubriski’s photographs preserve the emotional impact of this infamous day through images of those who witnessed its aftermath first-hand.

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Deborah Luster (born Bend, OR 1951) '01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds' 2008-2012

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Deborah Luster (born Bend, OR 1951)
01-26 Location. 1800 Leonidas Street (Carrollton) Date(s). July 14, 2009 7:55 a.m. Name(s). Brian Christopher Smith (22) Notes. Face up with multiple gunshot wounds
2008-2012
Gelatin silver print
55 x 55 in. (139.7 x 139.7 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2013.43, © 2010, Deborah Luster

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This photograph, from a series that documents contemporary and historical homicide sites in New Orleans, presents Deborah Luster’s interpretation of the last view of the crime victim lying face up on the ground. The title is the entry from the New Orleans Police blotter, but the photograph is Luster’s meditation on looking, seeing, and the power of images to haunt our imagination.

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Unidentified artist. '[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]' c. 1865

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Unidentified artist
[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 14 1/8 x 11 in. (35.9 x 28.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.220

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Anthony Barboza (born New Bedford, MA 1944) '"Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, boxer' 1981

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Anthony Barboza (born New Bedford, MA 1944)
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, boxer
1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 13 7/8 x 13 7/8 in. (35.2 x 35.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Kenneth B. Pearl, 1997.118.2, © 1981, Anthony Barboza

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Edward S. Curtis (born Whitewater, WI 1868 - died Los Angeles, CA 1952) 'Girl and Jar - San Ildefonso' 1905

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Edward S. Curtis (born Whitewater, WI 1868 – died Los Angeles, CA 1952)
Girl and Jar – San Ildefonso
1905
Photogravure
Sight 16 5/8 x 12 1/4 in. (12.3 x 31.1 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the United States Marshal Service of the U.S. Department of Justice, 1988.5.18

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Between 1900 and 1930, Edward S. Curtis traveled across the continent photographing more than seventy Native American tribes. The photographs, compiled into twenty volumes, presented daily activities, customs, and religions of a people he called “a vanishing race.” Curtis hoped to preserve the legacy of Native peoples in lasting images. To this end, Curtis often costumed his subjects and set up scenes, mixing tribal artifacts and traditions to match his romantic vision of the people he studied. In this intimate portrait, a young Tewa woman named Povi-Tamu (“Flower Morning”) balances a large jug with help from a hidden fiber ring. She is from the San Ildefonso Pueblo of New Mexico, which is famed for its rich tradition of fine pottery. Curtis associated the serpentine design of the vessel with the serpent cult, which he noted was central to Tewa life.

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Oliver H. Willard (died 1875) 'Portrait of a Young Woman' c. 1857

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Oliver H. Willard (died 1875)
Portrait of a Young Woman
c. 1857
Salted paper print
8 7/8 x 6 3/4 in. (22.5 x 17.1 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, 1999.29.1

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Spiritual Frontier

The earliest photographs made in America describe an awesome land blessed with such an abundance of natural beauty that it seemed heaven sent. Images of waterfalls, mountains, and vast open spaces conveyed the beauty, the grandeur, the sublimity, and dynamics of a great spiritual endeavor. In the nineteenth century photographers pictured wilderness landscapes that symbolized American greatness. More recently, photographers have described a landscape no less romantic, but now recalibrated to account for the interaction of nature and culture.

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Eadweard Muybridge (born Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1830 - died Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1904) 'Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point' 1872

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Eadweard Muybridge (born Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1830 – died Kingston-upon-Thames, England 1904)
Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point
1872
Albumen silver print
Sheet: 17 x 21 1/2 in. (43.2 x 54.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs, 1994.89.1

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Eadweard Muybridge went to great lengths to photograph the best possible views of the West. He chopped down trees if they obstructed his camera, and ventured to “points where his packers refused to follow him.” Muybridge was determined to produce the most comprehensive photographs ever made of Yosemite and the surrounding region. His views were sold widely in both large-format prints and stereograph cards, which are viewed through a device that creates the illusion of three-dimensional space. This allowed Muybridge to transport his audience, if just for a moment, to a faraway place caught on film.

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Robert Frank (born Zurich, Switzerland 1924) 'Butte, Montana' 1956, printed 1973

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Robert Frank (born Zurich, Switzerland 1924)
Butte, Montana
1956, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 13 in. (22.2 x 33.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1974.31.2

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Robert Adams (born Orange, NJ 1937) 'New Housing, Longmont, Colorado' 1973

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Robert Adams (born Orange, NJ 1937)
New Housing, Longmont, Colorado
1973
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 6 x 7 5/8 in. (15.1 x 19.3 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.9
© 1973, Robert Adams

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As both a photographer and writer, Robert Adams is committed to describing the western American landscape as both awe-inspiring and scarred by man. In New Housing, Longmont Colorado, Adams contrasted the vast space of the distant landscape view with a foreground image of the wall of a newly constructed suburban tract house. Adams invites a consideration of the balance between myth and reality and the land as home as well as scenic backdrop.

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Charles L. Weed (born New York City 1824 - died Oakland, CA 1903) 'Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California' 1865

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Charles L. Weed (born New York City 1824 – died Oakland, CA 1903)
Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California
1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 15 1/2 x 20 1/4 in. (39.4 x 51.4 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs, 1994.89.5

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Like Carleton Watkins, his better-known competitor, Charles Weed recognized the pictorial dividend to be gained by showing Yosemite’s glorious geological features in duplicate, using the valley’s lakes as reflecting ponds. Weed first traveled to what was then known as “Yo-Semite,” in 1859, but with a relatively small camera; he returned in 1865 with a larger model capable of using what were called mammoth plates. Like Watkins, he sold his prints to buyers eager to own a photograph of majestic natural beauty.

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Ansel Adams (born San Francisco, CA 1902 - died Monterey, CA 1984) 'Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley' 1926-1927, printed 1927

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Ansel Adams (born San Francisco, CA 1902 – died Monterey, CA 1984)
Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley
1926-1927, printed 1927
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 11 7/8 x 9 7/8 in. (30.2 x 25.1 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1992.101.3, © 2013 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

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At just over 4,700 feet above the valley, Half Dome is the most iconic rock formation in Yosemite National Park. Adams squeezed the monolith into the frame to emphasize the majesty of its scale and the drama of its cliff. As it thrusts out of the brilliant white snow, Half Dome stands as a symbol of the unspoiled western landscape. Ansel Adams made his first trip to the Sierra Nevada mountain range when he was fourteen years old, and he returned every year until the end of his life, often for month-long stretches. Throughout his career Adams traveled widely – from Hawaii to Maine – to photograph the most picturesque vistas in America. After his death in 1984, a section of the Sierra Nevada was named the Ansel Adams Wilderness in his honor.

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John Pfahl (born New York City 1939) 'Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York' 1989

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John Pfahl (born New York City 1939)
Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York
1989
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 1991.27.3, © 1989, John Pfahl

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John Pfahl’s photographs embody the conflict between progress and preservation. Throughout the 1980s he focused on oil refineries and power plants. He chose the sites strategically based on their location in picturesque landscapes, where he observed a “transcendental” connection between industry and nature. In Goodyear #5 a nuclear power plant occupies the horizon. The setting sun provides a romantic color palette as light filters through clouds of billowing steam. The landscape is reduced to an abstract composition that celebrates color and texture. Pfahl’s intention with this series, titled Smoke, was to “make photographs whose very ambiguity provokes thought.” This photograph complicates popular notions of power plants by revealing an uncommonly beautiful view of a controversial structure.

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“A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the numerous ways in which photography, from early daguerreotypes to contemporary digital works, has captured the American experience. The photographs presented here are selected from the approximately 7,000 images collected since the museum’s photography program began thirty years ago, in 1983. Ranging from daguerreotype to digital, they depict the American experience and are loosely grouped around four ideas: American Characters, Spiritual Frontier, America Inhabited, and Imagination at Work.

The exhibition’s title is inspired by American poet Walt Whitman’s belief that photography provided America with a new, democratic art form that matched the spirit of the young country and his belief that photography was a quintessentially American activity, rooted in everyday people and ordinary things and presented in a straightforward way. Known as the “poet of democracy,” Whitman wrote after visiting a daguerreotype studio in 1846: “You will see more life there – more variety, more human nature, more artistic beauty… than in any spot we know.” At the time of Whitman’s death, in 1892, George Eastman had just introduced mass market photography when he put an affordable box camera into the hands of thousands of Americans. The ability to capture an instant of lasting importance and fundamental truth mesmerized Americans then and continues to inspire photographers working today. Marking the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of the museum’s pioneering photography collection, the exhibition examines photography’s evolution in the United States from a documentary medium to a full-fledged artistic genre and showcases the numerous ways in which it has distilled our evolving idea of “America.”

The exhibition features 113 photographs selected from the museum’s permanent collection, including works by Edward S. Curtis, Timothy H. O’SullivanBerenice AbbottDiane ArbusRoy DeCaravaWalker Evans,Irving PennTrevor Paglen, among others, as well as vernacular works by unknown artists. A number of recent acquisitions are featured, including works by Ellen CareyMitch EpsteinMuriel HasbunAlfredo Jaar, Annie Leibovitz, Deborah Luster, and Sally Mann. Landscapes, portraits, documentary-style works from the New York Photo League and images from surveying expeditions sent westward after the Civil War are among the images on display, and explore how photographs have been used to record and catalogue, to impart knowledge, to project social commentary, and as instruments of self-expression.

Photography’s arrival in the United States in 1840 allowed ordinary people to make and own images in a way that had not been previously possible. Photographers immediately became engaged with the life of the emerging nation, the activity of new urban centers, and the possibilities of unprecedented access to the vast western frontier. From the nineteenth to the twentieth century, photography not only captured the country’s changing cultural and physical landscape, but also developed its own language and layers of meaning.

A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum is organized around four major themes that defined American photography. “American Characters” examines the ways in which photographs of individuals, places, and objects become a catalogue of our collective memory and have contributed to the ever-evolving idea of the American character. “Spiritual Frontier” investigates early ideas of a vast, inexhaustible wilderness that symbolized American greatness. “America Inhabited” traces the nation’s rapid industrialization and urbanization through images of speed, change, progress, immigration, and contemporary rural, urban, and suburban landscapes. “Imagination at Work” demonstrates how photography’s role of spontaneous witness gradually gave way to contrived arrangement and artistic invention. The exhibition is organized by Merry Foresta, guest curator and independent consultant for the arts. She was the museum’s curator of photography from 1983 to 1999.

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Connecting online
A complementary website designed for viewing on tablets includes photographs on view in the exhibition, an expanded selection of works from the museum’s collection and a timeline of American photography. It is available through tablet stations in the exhibition galleries, online, and on mobile devices.”

Press release from the Smithsonian American Art Museum website

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America Inhabited

Photography’s early presence in America coincided with the rise of an industrial economy, the growth of major urban population centers, and the fulfilling of what some saw as the Manifest Destiny of spanning the continent from sea to sea. Images of progress and industry, as well as of city and suburbs, quickly added themselves to photography’s catalogue of places and people. Some of these images reflect idealistically, and at times nostalgically, on the beauty and humanity of our own backyards. Others stand as social documents that can be seen as critical and ironic, inviting outrage as well as compassion about the way we now live our lives.

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Helen Levitt (born New York City 1913 - died New York City 2009) 'New York' c. 1942, printed later

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Helen Levitt (born New York City 1913 – died New York City 2009)
New York
c. 1942, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Image: 7 1/8 x 10 1/2 in. (18.1 x 26.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1984.16.4, © 1981, Helen Levitt

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Caught before they run off into the streets, three masked youngsters pause on their front stoop. Expressive postures and mysterious disguises give this trio a theatrical quality. Helen Levitt, who found poetry in the uninhibited gestures of children, used a right-angle viewfinder to capture boys and girls roaming freely and playing with found objects. Working in New York City during the years surrounding World War II, her photographs show the drama of life that unfolded on the sidewalks of poor and working-class neighborhoods.

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Louis Faurer (born Philadelphia, PA 1916 - died New York City 2001) 'Broadway, New York, N.Y.' 1949-1950, printed 1980-1981

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Louis Faurer (born Philadelphia, PA 1916 – died New York City 2001)
Broadway, New York, N.Y.
1949-1950, printed 1980-1981
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/8 x 12 9/16 in. (21.3 x 32 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of David L. Davies and John D. Weeden and museum purchase, 2002.47.6, © Estate of Louis Faurer

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Danny Lyon (born New York City 1942) 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville' 1966, printed 1985

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Danny Lyon (born New York City 1942)
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville
1966, printed 1985
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 12 7/8 in. (22.2 x 32.7 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mrs. Marshall Langhorne, 1988.52.8, Photo courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery and Dektol.wordpress.com

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William Eggleston (born Memphis, TN 1939) 'Tricycle (Memphis)' about 1975, printed 1980

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William Eggleston (born Memphis, TN 1939)
Tricycle (Memphis)
about 1975, printed 1980
Dye transfer print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Amy Loeserman Klein, 1985.87.12

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An ordinary tricycle is made monumental in this playful color photograph. Taken from below, it suggests a child’s perspective – elevating this rusty tricycle to a symbol of innocence and freedom. The quiet Memphis suburb in the background typifies the safe neighborhoods where children could spend hours playing after school. This print was made with the expensive and exacting dye imbibition process, which was typically used for fashion and advertising at the time. Eggleston began experimenting with color photography in the mid-1960s. Inspired by trips to a commercial photography lab, he developed an approach that imitates the random, imperfect style of amateur snapshots to describe his immediate surroundings combined with a keen interest in the effects of color.

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Tina Barney (born New York City 1945) 'Marina's Room' 1987

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Tina Barney (born New York City 1945)
Marina’s Room
1987
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 52.3 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1989.5, © 1987, Tina Barney, Courtesy Janet Borden, Inc.

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Aaron Siskind (born New York City 1903 - died Providence, RI 1991) 'Untitled' 1937, printed later

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Aaron Siskind (born New York City 1903 – died Providence, RI 1991)
Untitled
1937, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 10 x 14 in. (25.4 x 35.5 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Tennyson and Fern Schad, courtesy of Light Gallery, 1990.73.4, © 1940, Aaron Siskind

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In this untitled photograph Aaron Siskind focused on the regular grid of boarded-up windows on a derelict tenement building. Once portals into intimate domestic spaces, the windows represent loss in a community plagued by poverty, unemployment, and racial discrimination. Building upon the traditions of social documentary photographers before him, Siskind used his camera to raise public awareness of Harlem’s struggle, even as he created a modernist work of art.

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Walker Evans (born St. Louis, MO 1903 - died New Haven, CT 1975) 'Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead' 1936, printed 1974

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Walker Evans (born St. Louis, MO 1903 – died New Haven, CT 1975)
Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead
1936, printed 1974
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 9 3/8 x 12 in. (23.9 x 30.5 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Lee and Maria Friedlander, 2006.13.1.8

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During the summer of 1936, Walker Evans joined writer James Agee in rural Alabama to work on a magazine assignment on cotton farming. Evans and Agee met with three tenant farm families and documented every detail of their experiences. The result, which the magazine declined to publish, was released as the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1941. It contains some of the most iconic and contentious photographs to document the Great Depression. Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead reads like a modern novel. Every crack in the wood, every speck of paint tells part of the story. Evans drew special attention to the scarcity of cooking tools at the family’s disposal. These everyday utensils illustrate a metaphor for the struggle to meet basic needs.

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Judy Fiskin (born Chicago, IL 1945) 'Long Beach Pike (broken fence)', from the 'Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project' 1980

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Judy Fiskin (born Chicago, IL 1945)
Long Beach Pike (broken fence), from the Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project
1980
Gelatin silver print
Image: 2 1/2 x 2 1/2 in. (6.2 x 6.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.505, © 1980, Judy Fiskin

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For this series, sponsored by the National Endowment of the Art’s Long Beach Documentary Survey Project, Judy Fiskin focused on the Long Beach Pike, an amusement park that was demolished soon after she made the photographs. By printing in high contrast and restricting the scale of her prints, Fiskin reduced form to its bare essentials. Devoid of superfluous detail, these photographs appear more like conjured images than documents of reality. Judy Fiskin systematically catalogues the world of architecture and design in order to study variations of historical styles. Her series carefully investigate esoteric subjects such as military base architecture, “dingbat” style houses in southern California, and the art of flower arranging.

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Berenice Abbott (born Springfield, OH 1898-died Monson, ME 1991) 'Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn' 1936

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Berenice Abbott (born Springfield, OH 1898-died Monson, ME 1991)
Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn
1936
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 18 x 14 3/8 in. (45.7 x 36.6 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the Evander Childs High School, Bronx, New York through the General Services Administration, 1975.83.10

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Berenice Abbott returned home in 1929 after nearly eight years abroad and found herself fascinated by the rapid growth of New York City. She saw the city as bristling with new buildings and structures which seemed to her as solid and as permanent as a mountain range. Aiming to capture “the past jostling the present,” Abbott spent the next five years on a project she called Changing New York. In Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn, Abbott presented a century of history in a single image. The Brooklyn Bridge, once a marvel of modern engineering, seems dark and heavy compared with the skeletal structure beneath it. The construction site at center suggests the never-ending cycle of death and regeneration. And the Manhattan skyline, veiled and weightless, hangs just out of reach, its shape accommodating the ambitious spirit of American modernism.

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Robert Disraeli (born Cologne, Germany 1905 - died 1987) 'Cold Day on Cherry Street' 1932

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Robert Disraeli (born Cologne, Germany 1905 – died 1987)
Cold Day on Cherry Street
1932
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 14 x 11 in. (35.5 x 28.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Mr. and Mrs. G. Howland Chase, Mrs. James S. Harlan (Adeline M. Noble Collection), Lucie Louise Fery, Berthe Girardet, and Mrs. George M. McClellan, 1990.19.9, © 1932, Robert Disraeli

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Imagination at Work

Nineteenth-century French commentator Alexis de Tocqueville observed that in America, nothing is ever quite what it seems. Yet the idea that “seeing is believing” is deeply ingrained in the American character. By yoking together style and subject under the guise of the real, today’s photographers borrow from photography’s rich past while embracing the conceptual framework of contemporary art. They read reality as something on the surface of a picture or, more complexly, as something located in the mind of its beholder.

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Sonya Noskowiak (born Leipzig, Germany 1900 - died Greenbrae, CA 1975) 'Calla Lily' c. 1930s

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Sonya Noskowiak (born Leipzig, Germany 1900 – died Greenbrae, CA 1975)
Calla Lily
c. 1930s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 7 3/8 x 9 3/4 in. (18.8 x 24.7 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible through Deaccession Funds, 1986.54

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Ray K. Metzker (born Milwaukee, WI 1931) 'Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)' 1966

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Ray K. Metzker (born Milwaukee, WI 1931)
Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)
1966
Gelatin silver prints
Image: 25 3/8 x 17 3/4 in. (64.5 x 45.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1984.57.1, © 1966, Ray K. Metzker

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Ray Metzker’s Composites series, begun in 1964, connected in a dramatic fashion his interests in contrasts of light and shadow, his strong sense of design, and his earlier explorations of the multiple image. Metzker studied at Chicago’s Institute of Design, where a rigorously formal, problem-solving approach to photography was taught. For this series he assembled grids of individual photographs to create complex image-fields. When viewed from a distance, this work reads as an abstract, rhythmic pattern of light and dark. On closer inspection, however, many crisply descriptive images are revealed. The Composites function somewhat like short filmstrips. The mystery of these brief narratives is exaggerated by the repetitive design and provides a unique opportunity, in Metzker’s words, “to deal with complexity of succession and simultaneity, of collected and related moments.”

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Irving Penn (born Plainfield, NJ 1917 - died New York City 2009) 'Mud Glove - New York' 1975, printed 1976

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Irving Penn (born Plainfield, NJ 1917 – died New York City 2009)
Mud Glove – New York
1975, printed 1976
Platinum-palladium print
Sheet and image: 29 3/4 x 22 1/4 in. (75.5 x 56.5 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the artist, 1988.83.39

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Irving Penn was one of the most important and influential photographers of the twentieth century. In a career that spanned almost seventy years, Penn worked across multiple genres, from celebrity portraits to fashion, from still lives to images of native cultures in remote places of the world. Throughout his career Penn also worked on a series of photographs of discarded objects: things that had been lost, neglected, or misused. Printed in platinum, these detailed photographs of objects such as a lost glove found in the gutter, are Penn’s photographic memento mori, offering beauty compromised by age or disuse.

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Edward Weston (born Highland Park, IL 1886 - died Carmel, CA 1958) 'Pepper no. 30' 1930

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Edward Weston (born Highland Park, IL 1886 – died Carmel, CA 1958)
Pepper no. 30
1930
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (24.3 x 19.2 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase, 1985.56

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Imogen Cunningham (born Portland, OR 1883 - died San Francisco, CA 1976) 'Auragia' 1953, printed c. 1960s

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Imogen Cunningham (born Portland, OR 1883 – died San Francisco, CA 1976)
Auragia
1953, printed c. 1960s
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in. (28.3 x 22.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Charles Isaacs and Carol Nigro, 2007.37.2

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Ellen Carey (born New York City 1952) 'Dings and Shadows' 2012

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Ellen Carey (born New York City 1952)
Dings and Shadows
2012
Chromogenic print
Sheet and image: 40 x 30 in. (101.6 x 76.2 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Linda Cheverton Wick and Walter Wick, 2013.29
© 2012, Ellen Carey

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Ellen Carey created the series she calls Dings and Shadows by exposing photosensitive paper to light projected through primary and complementary color filters. The artist first folds and crushes paper; then after exposing the paper to light from a color enlarger, flattens it out again for processing. In doing so, Carey dissects the process of developing film, and evokes the hand-crafted nature of early photographic techniques.

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Some images from the Timeline on the website

1843

Daguerreotypists Albert S. Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes begin a partnership, establishing Southworth & Hawes as the most highly regarded portrait studio in Boston, Mass. The studio caters to the city’s elite, and is visited by Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among many other influential people of the time.

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Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes. 'A Bride and Her Bridesmaids' 1851

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Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes
A Bride and Her Bridesmaids
1851
Daguerreotype
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Walter Beck, 2000.110

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1853

The New York Daily Tribune estimates that in the United States, three million daguerreotypes are being produced annually.

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Unidentified artist. 'Mother and Son' c. 1855

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Unidentified artist
Mother and Son
c. 1855
Daguerreotype with applied color
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.192

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1857

Julian Vannerson and Samuel Cohner make the first systematic photographs of Native American delegations to visit Washington, D.C. They photograph ninety delegates representing thirteen tribes who conduct treaty and other negotiations with government officials.

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Julian Vannerson. 'Shining Metal' 1858

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Julian Vannerson
Shining Metal
1858
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

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1861

American Civil War begins with shots fired on Fort Sumter by Confederate troops. Portrait photographer Mathew Brady is given permission by President Abraham Lincoln to photograph the First Battle of Bull Run, but comes so close to the battle that he narrowly avoids capture. Using paid assistants Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, George N. Barnard, and others, Brady’s studio makes thousands of photos of the sites, material, and people of the war. Civilian free-lance photographer Egbert Guy Fowx sells numerous negatives to Brady’s studio, which publishes and copyrights many of them. Many other images are credited to Fowx, including this group of Union officers.

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Egbert Guy Fowx. 'New York 7th Regiment Officers' c. 1863

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Egbert Guy Fowx
New York 7th Regiment Officers
c. 1863
Salted paper print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.53

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1867

Eadweard Muybridge begins trip to photograph in Yosemite Valley. He publishes his photographs under the name “Helios,” which is also the name of his San Francisco studio. An exhibition of more than 300 photographic portraits of Native American delegates to Washington, D.C., opens in the Smithsonian Castle. Clarence R. King begins direction of the U.S. Geological Expedition of the Fortieth Parallel, appointing Timothy O’Sullivan as the official photographer. Photographer Carleton Watkins joins the survey in 1871.

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Timothy H. O'Sullivan. 'Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada' 1867

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Timothy H. O’Sullivan
Tufa Domes, Pyramid Lake, Nevada
1867
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.142

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1869

Andrew J. Russell’s album, The Great West Illustrated in a Series of Photographic Views across the Continent; Taken along the Line of the Union Pacific Railroad from Omaha, Nebraska, Volume I, is published. George M. Wheeler begins direction of the United States Geological Surveys West of the 100th Meridian for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Wheeler makes fourteen trips to the West over the next eight years. Photographer Timothy O’Sullivan accompanies him in 1871, 1873, and 1874.

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Andrew Joseph Russell. 'Sphinx of the Valley' 1869

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Andrew Joseph Russell
Sphinx of the Valley
1869
Albumen silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 1994.91.164

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1967

The Friends of Photography is founded in Carmel, California, by Ansel Adams, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Brett Weston, and others, with the aim of promoting creative photography and supporting its practitioners. It remains in existence until 2001.

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Brett Weston. 'Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)' 1973

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Brett Weston
Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)
1973
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts, 1983.63.1659
© 1973, Brett Weston

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1975

New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape opens at the International Museum of Photography in Rochester, N.Y. It includes photographs by Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joe Deal, Frank Gohlke, Nicholas Nixon, John Schott, Stephen Shore, and Henry Wessel Jr.

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Frank Gohlke. 'Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973' 1973, printed 1994

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Frank Gohlke
Grain Elevator, Dumas, Texas, 1973
1973, printed 1994
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2010.15.3
© 1973, Frank Gohlke

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Smithsonian American Art Museum
8th and F Streets, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004

Opening hours:
11.30 am – 7.00 pm daily

Smithsonian American Art Museum website

A Democracy of Images website

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09
Dec
09

Exhibition: ‘Icons of American Photography’ at the Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh

Exhibition dates: 3rd October 2009 – 3rd January 2010

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Laszlo Moholy Nagy. 'Untitled' 1939

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Laszlo Moholy-Nagy
‘Untitled’
1939

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Imogene Cunningham. 'Black and White Lilies' 1928

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Imogen Cunningham
‘Black and White Lilies’
1928

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Alfred Steiglitz. 'Georgia O'Keefe' 1933

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Alfred Steiglitz
‘Georgia O’Keefe’
1933

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“On October 3, 2009, ‘Icons of American Photography: A Century of Photographs from the Cleveland Museum of Art’ opens at The Frick Art Museum. This exhibition is composed of fifty-nine photographs from Cleveland’s extraordinary collection that chronicle the evolution of photography in America from a scientific curiosity in the 1850s to one of the most potent forms of artistic expression of the twentieth century.

‘Icons of American Photography’ presents some of the best work by masters of the medium, like Mathew Brady, William Henry Jackson, Eadweard Muybridge, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Robert Frank, encompassing themes of portraiture, the Western landscape, Pictorialism, documentary photography, and abstraction.

The exhibition explores the technical developments of photography, starting with outstanding examples of daguerreotypes – a sheet of copper coated with light sensitive silver. The daguerreotype gave way to salt, albumen, and then gelatin silver prints. Technologies improved to accommodate larger sizes, easy reproduction of multiple prints from a single negative, and commercially available negative film and print papers. As we move into an increasingly digitized twenty-first century, the lure of the photographer’s magic and the mysteries of making photographic images appear on paper is still strong.

‘Icons of American Photography’ presents a remarkable chronicle of American life seen through the camera’s lens. The earliest days of photography saw a proliferation of portraiture – intimately personal and honest in composition. A rare multiple-exposure daguerreotype by Albert Southworth (1811 – 1894) and Josiah Hawes (1808 – 1901) presents the sitter in variety of poses and expressions, while the formal portrait of Prosper M. Wetmore, 1857, by Civil War-era photographer Mathew Brady (1823 – 1896) is more typical of early portraiture. The carefully staged daguerreotype, Dead Child on a Sofa, c. 1855, is an outstanding example of the postmortem portrait. The high rate of infant mortality throughout the 1800s made this variety of portraiture common, satisfying the emotional need of the parents to have a lasting memory of their loved one.

Advances in photographic processes allowed for a range of expressive qualities that were exploited by photographers with an artistic flair. In a style known as Pictorialism, works such as Hamadryads, 1910, by Anne Brigman (1869 – 1950) imitated the subject matter of painting. In Greek mythology a hamadryad is a nymph whose life begins and ends with that of a specific tree. In this work, two nudes representing wood nymphs were carefully placed among the flowing forms of an isolated tree in the High Sierra. The platinum print method used by Brigman allowed for a detailed, yet warm and evocative result. Edward Steichen’s Rodin the Thinker, 1902 (see below), was created from two different negatives printed together using the carbon print process. This non-silver process provided a continuous and delicate tonal range. For even greater richness, these prints were often toned, producing dense, glossy areas in either black or warm brown.

During the late nineteenth century, the U.S. Congress commissioned photographers to document the American West. Photographs by Timothy O’Sullivan (1840 – 1882) and William Henry Jackson (1843 – 1942) are the most celebrated from among this era. The exhibition includes O’Sullivan’s East Humbolt Mountains, Utah, 1868, and Jackson’s Mystic Lake, M.T., 1872, as well as Bridal Veil, Yosemite, c. 1866 (see below), by Carleton Watkins (1829 – 1916). Photographers carried large-format cameras with heavy glass negatives to precarious vantage points to create their sharply focused and detailed views. Decades later, Ansel Adams (1902 – 1984) carried on the intrepid tradition when he swerved to the side of the road and hauled his view camera to the roof of his car to make the famous image Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941.

Responding to the rapid growth of the twentieth century, many photographers shifted their attention from depictions of the natural world to the urban landscape. The power, energy, and romance of the city inspired varied approaches, from sweeping vistas to tight, close-up details and unusual camera angles. Margaret Bourke-White (1904 – 1971) established her reputation during the late 1920s by photographing industrial subjects in Cleveland. Her Terminal Tower, 1928, documents what was then the second tallest building in America. Berenice Abbot’s (1898 – 1991) New York, 1936, is one of many depictions of this vibrant metropolis. The human life of the city intrigued many photographers, including Helen Levitt (1913 – 2009) whose photographs of children are direct, unsentimental and artful; Weegee [Arthur Fellig] (1899 – 1968) who unflinchingly documented crime and accident scenes; and Gordon Parks (1912 – 2006) who chronicled the life of African Americans.

Exploiting the new medium, numerous photography projects were instituted as part of FDR’s New Deal. The most legendary was that of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) run by Roy Stryker, who hired such important photographers such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Arthur Rothstein. One of the most iconic images of the New Deal was Dust Storm, Cimarron County, 1936 (see below), by Arthur Rothstein (1915 – 1985). In the spring of 1936, Rothstein made hundreds of photographs in Cimarron County in the Oklahoma panhandle, one of the worst wind-eroded areas in the United States. Out of that body of work came this gripping, unforgettable image. Dorothea Lange’s (1895 – 1965) work chronicled the human toll wrought by hardship in Resident, Conway, Arkansas, 1938.

As an art form, photography kept in step with formalist modern styles and an increasing trend toward abstraction. Known for his precisionist paintings, Charles Sheeler’s (1883 – 1965) Bucks County Barn, 1915, features a geometric composition, sharp focus, and subtle tonal range. In Black and White Lilies III, c. 1928 (see above), Imogene Cunningham (1883 – 1976) combined the clarity and directness of Modernism with her long-held interest in botanical imagery. For two decades she created a remarkable group of close-up studies of plants and flowers that identified her as one of the most sophisticated and experimental photographers working in America.

Photographers such as Edward Weston (1886 – 1958) and Paul Strand (1890 – 1976) employed a straight-on clarity that highlighted the abstract design of everyday objects and the world around us. A completely abstract work by artist László Moholy-Nagy (1894 – 1946), untitled, 1939 (see above), is a photogram made by laying objects onto light-sensitive photographic paper and exposing it to light. The objects partially block the light to create an abstract design on the paper.

By 1960, photography had attained a prominent place not only among the fine arts, but in popular culture as well, ushering in a new era of image-based communication that has profoundly affected the arts as well as everyday life.

‘Icons of American Photography: A Century of Photographs from the Cleveland Museum of Art’ is organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art. The exhibition is curated by Tom Hinson, Curator of Photography.”

Press release from the The Frick Art and Historical Center website

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Edward Steichen. 'Rodin The Thinker' 1902

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Edward Steichen
‘Rodin The Thinker’
1902

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Arthur Rothstein. 'Dust Storm, Cimarron County' 1936

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Arthur Rothstein
‘Dust Storm, Cimarron County’
1936

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Eadweard J. Muybridge. 'Valley of Yosemite, from Rocky Ford' 1872

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Eadweard J. Muybridge
‘Valley of Yosemite, from Rocky Ford’
1872

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Carelton Watkins. 'Yosemite Valley from the Best General View No.2' 1866

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Carelton Watkins
‘Yosemite Valley from the Best General View No.2′
1866

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Carleton Watkins. 'Bridal Veil, Yosemite' 1866

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Carleton Watkins
‘Bridal Veil, Yosemite’
1866

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The Frick Art and Historical Center
7227 Reynolds Street
Pittsburgh PA 15208

Opening Hours:
Tuesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Closed Monday

The Frick Art and Historical Center website

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16
Apr
09

Exhibition: ‘Into the Sunset: Photography’s Image of the American West’ at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

Exhibition dates: 29th March – 8th June 2009

 

“The Museum of Modern Art presents ‘Into the Sunset: Photography’s Image of the American West’, a survey of 138 photographic works dating from 1850 to 2008 that chart the West’s complex, rich, and often compelling mythology via photography. The exploration of a large part of the American West in the mid-nineteenth century by European Americans coincided with the advent of photography, and photography and the West came of age together. The region’s seemingly infinite bounty and endless potential symbolized America as a whole, and photography, with its ability to construct persuasive and seductive images, was the perfect medium with which to forge a national identity. This relationship has resulted in a complex association that shapes the perception of the West’s social and physical landscape to this day. With political, cultural, and social attitudes constantly shifting in the region over the last 150 years, Into the Sunset further examines the way photographers have responded to these changes. The exhibition is organized by Eva Respini, Associate Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, and is on view in the Special Exhibitions Gallery on the third floor from March 29 to June 8, 2009.

Organized thematically rather than chronologically, ‘Into the Sunset’ brings together the work of over 70 photographers, including Robert Adams, John Baldessari, Dorothea Lange, Timothy O’Sullivan, Cindy Sherman, Joel Sternfeld, Carleton E. Watkins, and Edward Weston, among others. The exhibition draws extensively from MoMA’s collection, along with private and public collections in the United States, and features new acquisitions from Adam Bartos, Katy Grannan, and Dennis Hopper, with each work also on view for the first time at the Museum.

Ms. Respini states: “Ranging from grand depictions of paradise to industrial development, from pictures taken on the road to prosaic suburban scenes, the photographs included in Into the Sunset do not all picture the West from the same point of view, or even perhaps, picture the same West. Rather, each is one part in a continually shifting and evolving composite image of a region that has itself been growing and changing since the opening of the frontier.” 

‘Into the Sunset’ begins with the birth of photography and the American West. In the midnineteenth century, the region’s seemingly infinite bounty and endless potential symbolized America as a whole, and Carleton E. Watkins (American, 1829-1916) captured the grand depictions of an American paradise in his photographs of Yosemite Valley in California. Arguably the world’s first renowned landscape photographer, Watkins made his first photographs there in 1861—large sized prints made with an 18-by-22-inch mammoth plate camera, well suited to the grandeur of the land. Included are the three contiguous photographs that make up his extraordinarily detailed View from the Sentinel Dome (1865-66).

 

Carelton Watkins. 'View from the Sentinel Dome, Yosemite' 1865-66

 

Carelton Watkins. 'View from the Sentinel Dome, Yosemite' 1865-66

 

Carelton Watkins. 'View from the Sentinel Dome, Yosemite' 1865-66

 

Carelton Watkins
View from the Sentinel Dome, Yosemite
1865-66

 

The exhibition balances the early work of landscape photographers with the twentieth century focus on the failure of the West’s promised bounty. In Joel Sternfeld’s (American, b. 1944) ‘After a Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California’ (1979), the photographer documents the impact of a natural disaster, specifically a landslide, shot with neutral tones softly camouflaging the extent of flash flood on this suburban neighborhood. And in Karin Apollonia Müller’s (German, b. 1963) ‘Civitas’ (1997), the photographer shows a very different view of California than that of Watkins, with Müller revealing a contemporary Los Angeles as a littered wasteland of freeways and anonymous glass towers.

 

Joel Sternfeld. 'After a Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California' 1979

 

Joel Sternfeld
After a Flash Flood, Rancho Mirage, California
1979

 

Apollonia Müller. 'Civitas' 1997

 

Apollonia Müller
Civitas
1997

 

As highways and interstate travel became more prevalent, the automobile and the open road became synonymous with the region, with Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) as the first great photographer of these open roads. Included is Weston’s iconic ‘Hot Coffee, Mojave Desert’ (1937), a humorous black-and-white photograph of a roadsign revealing a greater thematic shift to the highway and its signage as an inescapable element in picturing the West in the twentieth century.

Once the West became more populated, photographers began to showcase humans’ effects on the land, including images of industrial development. In the 1950s William Garnett (American, 1916-2006) was hired by a real estate company to record the efficiency of massproduced housing. For this series, ‘Lakewood, California’ (1950), Garnett took photographs of the neighborhood from an airplane, resulting in images that are completely devoid of people and focus on the progress of mass-produced construction. However, the series subsequently came to represent all that was wrong with such development and the massive sprawl of the West in the eyes of its critics.

 

William Garnett. 'Foundations and Slabs, Lakewood, California' 1950

 

William Garnett
Foundations and Slabs, Lakewood, California
1950

 

William Garnett. 'Grading, Lakewood, California' 1950

 

William Garnett
Grading, Lakewood, California
1950

 

William Garnett. 'Trenching, Lakewood, California' 1950

 

William Garnett
Trenching, Lakewood, California
1950

 

William Garnett. 'Framing, Lakewood, California' 1950

 

William Garnett
Framing, Lakewood, California
1950

 

Photographs of the people of the West represent a diversity of archetypes: gold miners and loggers, Native Americans, cowboys, suburbanites, city dwellers, starlets, dreamers, and drifters. ‘Into the Sunset’ explores these archetypes, and their mutability into the twenty-first century. Included is ‘Half Indian/Half Mexican’ (1991), from the photographer James Luna (Native American, Pooyukitchum/Luiseno, b. 1950), an artist of Native American ancestry. This tongue-incheek self-portrait captures in profile both an identity photograph and a mug shot, and works as a counterpoint to the tokenized portrayals of Native Americans from the past 150 years.

A similar reevaluation of past archetypes occurs in Richard Prince’s (American, b. 1949) ‘Cowboy’ series from 1980, with one work from the series included in the exhibition. For that series Prince famously photographed Marlboro advertisements, cutting out the text, cropping the images, and enlarging them, highlighting the artifice of the virile image of the cowboy and its potency as a deeply ingrained figure in American mythology.

 

half-mexican-1991

 

James Luna
Half Indian/Half Mexican
1991

 

Richard Prince. 'Untitled (Cowboy)' 1989

 

Richard Prince
Untitled (Cowboy)
1989

 

The suburbs and their inhabitants have been a rich subject for photographers of the West, and included are Larry Sultan’s (American, b. 1946) ‘Film Stills from the Sultan Family Home Movies’ (1943-1972), in which Sultan chose individual frames from his family’s home movies and enlarged them. Although the images feature the activities that epitomize suburban life, a sense of unease lurks beneath the surface of these images; cropped and grainy, they resemble surveillance or evidence photographs.

‘Into the Sunset’ concludes with the theme of the failed promise of Western migration. Dorothea Lange’s well-known 1936 photograph ‘Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California’, photographed when Lange was employed by the Farm Security Administration, is included and documents the conditions of the West in rural areas during the Great Depression. Her photographs had a humanist purpose and resulted in putting a face on the hardships of that era.

 

Dorothea Lange. 'Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California' 1936

 

Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936

 

This tradition of capturing the downtrodden of the West continues into this century with Katy Grannan (American, b. 1969), a photographer who recently completed a series of new pioneers, individuals struggling to define themselves in the West of today. In Nicole, Crissy Field Parking Lot (I) (2006), a woman, “Nicole,” poses seductively on a gravel parking lot, with her makeup-streaked face and harsh light alluding to her perilous existence on the fringe of society.”

Text from the MOMA website

 

Katy Grannan. 'Nicole, Crissy Field Parking Lot (I)' 2006

 

Katy Grannan
Nicole, Crissy Field Parking Lot (I)
2006

 

Cindy Sherman. 'Untitled Film Still #43' 1979

 

Cindy Sherman
Untitled Film Still #43
1979

 

Bill Owens. 'We Are Really Happy' 1972

 

Bill Owens
We Are Really Happy
1972

 

 

The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 708-9400

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Monday, 10.30 am – 5.30 pm
Friday, 10.30 am – 8.00 pm
Closed Tuesday

MOMA website

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03
Jan
09

Exhibition: ‘Dialogue among Giants: Carleton Watkins and the Rise of Photography in California’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 14th October 2008 – 1st March 2009

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Carleton Watkins. "Yosemite Valley from the Best General View" No.2. 1866

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Carleton Watkins
Yosemite Valley from the Best General View No.2
1866

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Carleton Watkins was a master photographer, craftsman, technician and, above all, a refined artist. The structural cadences of his compositions, like the best music, are superb. Within his photographs he creates a visual dialogue that sustains pertinent inquiry by the viewer  - the look! see! – that has lasted centuries, as all great art does. Today his photographs are as clearly seen, as incisive of mind, as when they were first produced. They delight.

From the documentary photographs of mining settlements to the images of Yosemite; from the stereographs of cities to the gardens of the rich and famous; from the photographs of untouched interior America to the images of the Monterey Peninsula Watkins photographs are sharply observed renditions of a reality placed before the lens of his giant plate camera.

Like all great artists his eye is unique. His use angle, height and placement of the camera is reinforced by his understanding of the balance of light and shade, the construction of planes within the image and the spatial relationships that could be achieved within the frame (at the same time we note that the artist Cezanne was also investigating the deconstruction of traditional landscape perspectives within the image frame). His work reminds me of the photographs of the great French photographer Eugene Atget: both men understood how best to place the camera to achieve the outcome they wanted so that the photographs became imprinted with their signature, images that nobody else could have taken. Today we recognize both men as masters of photography for this very fact. The images they took raise them above the rank and file photographer because of the care and understanding they took in the decisions they made in the exposure of the negative.

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Carleton Watkins. "The Dalles, Extremes of High & Low Water, 92 ft" 1883

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Carleton Watkins
The Dalles, Extremes of High & Low Water, 92 ft
1883

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Eugene Atget (French, 1857 - 1927) 'Parc de Saint Cloud' 1904

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Eugene Atget
Saint Cloud
1904

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As a precursor to modernism in photography Watkins does not have peer at this time. His photographs preempt the 20th century modernist work of Paul Strand and Alfred Stieglitz, his Monterey and Yosemite photographs the work of Edward Weston and Ansel Adams, and in his Japanese influences the work of Minor White. Even today at the exhibition by Andreas Gursky at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne there is a colour work of a body of water (see below: ‘Rhein’ 1996) that closely reflects the structure of Watkins ‘View on the Calloway Canal, near Poso Creek, Kern County’ 1887, even though the subject matter of Gursky’s image is a simulacra of an implied reality, whereas Watkins work “served as evidence in a water rights lawsuit that eventually resulted in a decisive court ruling that prevented newcomers from diverting water from existing landowners.”1

Watkins cadence as a sentient being will endure in the choices he made in the photographs he exposed. His tempo, his innate ability to place the camera, his understanding of the light and shade, texture, environment, depth of field and feeling make this artist one that all aspiring artists – no, all human beings – should study.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Carleton Watkins. "Cypress Tree at Point Lobos, Monterey County" 1883 - 1885

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Carleton Watkins
‘Cypress Tree at Point Lobos, Monterey County’
1883 – 1885

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Carleton Watkins. "View on the Calloway Canal, near Poso Creek, Kern County" 1887

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Carleton Watkins
‘View on the Calloway Canal, near Poso Creek, Kern County’
1887

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Andreas Gursky
‘Rhein II’
1996

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1. For more information see the J. Paul Getty web page about this image.

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The J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, California 90049

Opening hours:
Tues – Friday 10 – 5.30pm
Saturday 10 – 9pm
Sunday 10 – 9pm
Monday closed

The J. Paul Getty Museum website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘The Songs of Eternity’ 1994

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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