Archive for December 9th, 2009

09
Dec
09

Exhibition: ‘Icons of American Photography: A Century of Photographs from the Cleveland Museum of Art’ at the Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh

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

Curator: Tom Hinson, Curator of Photography

 

Many thankx to the Frick Art and Historical Center for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Matthew Brady (American 1823-1896) 'Prosper M. Wetmore' 1857

 

Matthew Brady (American, 1823-1896)
Prosper M. Wetmore
1857
Salted paper print from wet collodion negative
47 x 39.4cm (18 1/2 x 15 1/2 in.)
CC0 1.0 Universal

 

 

A popular author, legislator, and general in the New York State militia, Wetmore, here at age 59, still resembles Edgar Allen Poe’s description of him from a decade earlier: “about five feet eight in height, slender, neat; with an air of military compactness.” Brady’s portrait studio, with branches in New York and Washington, DC, was the most important of its era in America, thanks in part to its success in photographing political, social, and cultural figures. These early celebrity portraits, such as those of the wedding of performer Tom Thumb (seen in the centre of the gallery), could sell thousands of copies. Brady is now best known for images of the Civil War, most taken by photographers he hired.

Text from The Cleveland Museum of Art website

 

Anne W. Brigman (American, 1869-1950) 'The Hamadryads' c. 1910

 

Anne W. Brigman (American, 1869-1950)
The Hamadryads
c. 1910
Platinum print

 

Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) 'Bucks County Barn' 1915

 

Charles Sheeler (American, 1883-1965)
Bucks County Barn
1915
Gelatin silver print
9 1/4 x 7 5/16″ (23.5 x 18.6cm)

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American 1904-1971) 'Terminal Tower' 1928

 

Margaret Bourke-White (American 1904-1971)
Terminal Tower
1928
13 1/4 x 10″ (33.7 x 25.4cm)
Gelatin silver print

 

Imogene Cunningham. 'Black and White Lilies III' 1928

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Black and White Lilies III
1928
Gelatin silver print

 

Alfred Steiglitz. 'Georgia O'Keefe' 1933

 

Alfred Steiglitz (American, 1864-1946)
Georgia O’Keefe
1933
Gelatin silver photograph

 

Dorothea Lange (American 1895-1965) 'Resident, Conway, Arkansas' 1938

 

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895-1965)
Resident, Conway, Arkansas
1938
Gelatin silver print
11 15/16 x 9 1/2 in. (30.32 x 24.13cm)

 

Laszlo Moholy Nagy. 'Untitled' 1939

 

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (Hungarian, 1895-1946)
Untitled
1939
Photogram
Gelatin silver print

 

 

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 digitised 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 (see below), and Jackson’s Mystic Lake, M.T., 1872 (see below), 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 (see below), 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), Imogen 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 organised 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 [Online] Cited 06/12/2009 no longer available online

 

Unknown photographer (American) 'Dead child on a sofa' c. 1855

 

Unknown photographer (American)
Dead child on a sofa
c. 1855
Quarter plate daguerreotype with applied colour

 

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

 

Carelton Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Yosemite Valley from the Best General View No. 2
1866
Albumen silver print

 

 

Carleton Watkins had the ability to photograph a subject from the viewpoint that allowed the most information to be revealed about its contents. In this image, he captured what he considered the best features of Yosemite Valley: Bridal veil Falls, Cathedral Rock, Half Dome, and El Capitan. By positioning the camera so that the base of the slender tree appears to grow from the bottom edge of the picture, Watkins composed the photograph so that the canyon rim and the open space beyond it seem to intersect. Although he sacrificed the top of the tree, he was able to place the miniaturised Yosemite Falls at the visual centre of the picture. To alleviate the monotony of an empty sky, he added the clouds from a second negative. This image was taken while Watkins was working for the California Geological Survey. His two thousand pounds of equipment for the expedition, which included enough glass for over a hundred negatives, required a train of six mules.

Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website [Online] Cited 14/05/2019

 

Carleton Watkins. 'Bridal Veil, Yosemite' 1866

 

Carelton Watkins (American, 1829-1916)
Bridal Veil, Yosemite
1866
Albumen silver print

 

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

 

Eadweard J. Muybridge (American born England, 1830-1904)
Valley of Yosemite, from Rocky Ford
1872
Albumen silver print

 

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (American, 1840-1882) 'East Humboldt Mountains, Utah' 1868

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan (American, 1840-1882)
East Humboldt Mountains, Utah
1868
Albumen print from wet collodion negative
Image: 19.7 x 27cm (7 3/4 x 10 5/8 in.)
The Cleveland Museum of Art
James Parmelee Fund

 

 

By nature and by experience gained during the Civil War, O’Sullivan was ideally suited for the physical and creative demands required of the official photographer for the geological exploration of the fortieth parallel, led by the enterprising Yale geologist Clarence King. The goal of the expedition was to survey the geological structure and natural resources of a swath of territory 100 miles wide, from the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains across the Great Basin to the Rocky Mountains. While on the expedition in 1867-1869 and 1872, O’Sullivan simultaneously pursued his own interest in perfecting a balanced, aesthetic style of landscape photography while providing a faithful record of the natural terrain. As typified in this print, he positioned the camera at a distance parallel to the majestic scenery, presenting a shallow, flattened depiction of space. The image describes in sharp detail the sheer beauty and rugged scale of this Western landscape.

Text from The Cleveland Museum of Art website

 

William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942) 'Mystic Lake, M.T.' 1872

 

William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942)
Mystic Lake, M.T.
1872
Albumen print from wet collodion negative
Image: 23.3 x 50.7cm (9 3/16 x 19 15/16 in.)
The Cleveland Museum of Art
John L. Severance Fund

 

 

One of the best-known 19th-century landscape photographers of the American West, Jackson took thousands of negatives between 1870 and 1888 while working for the federal government and the railroads. Beginning in 1870, he began an eight-year assignment as official photographer to the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories led by Ferdinand V. Hayden. This beautiful view of Mystic Lake, located at the head of the East Gallatin River, is one of the most picturesque photographs of the mountainous American West. Jackson used for the first time 11-by-14-inch negatives that captured the scene’s rich textures, the brilliant play of light and shade, and the power and romance of this enthralling vista. Jackson described the scenic lake as “well stocked with most excellent trout, it is quite a pleasure-resort, despite the difficulties to encounter in reaching it.”

Text from The Cleveland Museum of Art website

 

Edward Steichen (American 1879-1973) 'Rodin The Thinker' 1902

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Rodin The Thinker
1902
Gum bichromate print

 

 

When Edward Steichen arrived in Paris in 1900, Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was regarded not only as the finest living sculptor but also perhaps as the greatest artist of his time. Steichen visited him in his studio in Meudon in 1901 and Rodin, upon seeing the young photographer’s work, agreed to sit for his portrait. Steichen spent a year studying the sculptor among his works, finally choosing to show Rodin in front of the newly carved white marble of the “Monument to Victor Hugo,” facing the bronze of “The Thinker.” In his autobiography, Steichen describes the studio as being so crowded with marble blocks and works in clay, plaster, and bronze that he could not fit them together with the sculptor into a single negative. He therefore made two exposures, one of Rodin and the “Monument to Victor Hugo,” and another of “The Thinker.” Steichen first printed each image separately and, having mastered the difficulties of combining the two negatives, joined them later into a single picture, printing the negative showing Rodin in reverse.

“Rodin – The Thinker” is a remarkable demonstration of Steichen’s control of the gum bichromate process and the painterly effects it encouraged. It is also the most ambitious effort of any Pictorialist to emulate art in the grand tradition. The photograph portrays the sculptor in symbiotic relation to his work.

Suppressing the texture of the marble and bronze and thus emphasiSing the presence of the sculptures as living entities, Steichen was able to assimilate the artist into the heroic world of his creations. Posed in relief against his work, Rodin seems to contemplate in “The Thinker” his own alter ego, while the luminous figure of Victor Hugo suggests poetic inspiration as the source of his creativity. Recalling his response to a reproduction of Rodin’s “Balzac” in a Milwaukee newspaper, Steichen noted: “It was not just a statue of a man; it was the very embodiment of a tribute to genius.” Filled with enthusiasm and youthful self-confidence, Steichen wanted in this photograph to pay similar tribute to Rodin’s genius.

Text from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website [Online] Cited 14/05/2019

 

Arthur Rothstein (American 1915-1985) 'Dust Storm, Cimarron County' 1936

 

Arthur Rothstein (American, 1915-1985)
Dust Storm, Cimarron County
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
40.4 × 39.6cm

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) 'Columbus Circle' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
Columbus Circle
1936
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.6 x 19.6cm (9 11/16 x 7 11/16 in.)
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Sundry Purchase Fund

 

 

A native of Springfield, Ohio, Abbott studied art and photography in Paris. Arriving in New York in 1929, she was shocked by the past decade’s vertical building boom, and dedicated herself to documenting the city’s new structures and fast-disappearing historic ones. She made this image from the ninth floor of the General Motors building in New York while working for the Federal Art Project, a governmental agency that employed artists during the Depression. The statue of Columbus, at centre, is dwarfed by two advertising signs: one for Schenley rye whiskey and a landmark 80-x-50-foot display for Coca-Cola that required 3,000 incandescent bulbs.

Text from The Cleveland Museum of Art website

 

 

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7227 Reynolds Street
Pittsburgh PA 15208

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Friday 10am – 9pm
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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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