17
Feb
10

Exhibition: ‘In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes before the Digital Age’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Exhibition dates: 25th October, 2009 – 14th March, 2010

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Many thankx to Kate Afanasyeva and the National Gallery of Art for allowing me to reproduce the photographs from the exhibition below.

A comment from a viewer of this post, Mark Starr, asking for help in regards to Collodion negatives is below. Perhaps someone can help?

“I have aquired an old charred and beaten wooden ammo box I think it dates back to the 1850’s as it is filled with literally 100+ glass negatives, possibly made by the “dry collodion” method. Can anyone PLEASE let me know who to contact for info on how to go about any method I could use to possibly verify the original Photographer, or to produce prints from these EXTREMELY delicate plates using today’s technics. As soon as I have ascertained some semblance of authenticity the entire collection will be made available to all persons sharing interest in these flawless remnants of over a century ago.
Any assistance in steering me in the next direction will be GREATLY appreciated.”

With Sincere Thanks,
Mr. Mark Starr
(925)565-9293
starrman4696@sbcglobal.net

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Laura Gilpin
Ghost Rock, Colorado Springs
1919
platinum print
National Gallery of Art, Washington Marvin Breckinridge Patterson Fund
© 1979 Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

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Clarence White
Mrs. White – In the Studio
1907
platinum print
National Gallery of Art, Washington Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel and R.K. Mellon Family Foundation Fund

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Sid Grossman
San Gennaro Festival, New York City
1948
gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington Anonymous Gift

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Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes
The Letter
c. 1850
daguerreotype
National Gallery of Art, Washington Patrons’ Permanent Fund

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László Moholy-Nagy
Untitled (Positive)
c. 1922-1924
gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington Gift of The Circle of the National Gallery of Art

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László Moholy-Nagy
Untitled
c. 1922-1924
gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington New Century Fund

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Anna Atkins
Ferns, Specimen of Cyanotype
1840s
cyanotype
National Gallery of Art, Washington R.K. Mellon Family Foundation Fund

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“The extraordinary range and complexity of the photographic process is explored, from the origins of the medium in the 1840s up to the advent of digital photography at the end of the 20th century, in a comprehensive exhibition and its accompanying guidebook at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. On view in the West Building, from October 25, 2009 through March 14, 2010, ‘In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes Before the Digital Age’ chronicles the major technological developments in the 170-year history of photography and presents the virtuosity of the medium’s practitioners. Drawn from the Gallery’s permanent collection are some 90 photographs – ranging from William Henry Fox Talbot’s images of the 1840s to Andy Warhol’s Polaroid prints of the 1980s.

“In the Darkroom and the accompanying guidebook provide a valuable overview of the medium as well as an introduction to the most commonly used photographic processes from its earliest days,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art.

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In the Darkroom

Organized chronologically, the exhibition opens with Lace (1839–1844), a photogenic drawing by William Henry Fox Talbot. Made without the aid of a camera, the image was produced by placing a swath of lace onto a sheet of sensitized paper and then exposing it to light to yield a tonally reversed image.

Talbot’s greatest achievement – the invention of the first negative-positive photographic process – is also celebrated in this section with paper negatives by Charles Nègre and Baron Louis-Adolphe Humbert de Molard as well as salted paper prints made from paper negatives by Nègre, partners David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, and others.

The daguerreotype, the first publicly introduced photographic process and the most popular form of photography during the medium’s first decade, is represented by a selection of British and American works, including an exquisite large-plate work by the American photographers Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes [see photograph above]. By the mid-1850s, the daguerreotype’s popularity was eclipsed by two new processes, the ambrotype and the tintype. These portable photographs on glass or metal were relatively inexpensive to produce and were especially popular for portraiture.

The year 1851 marked a turning point in photographic history with the introduction of the collodion negative on glass and the albumen print process. Most often paired together, this negative-print combination yielded lustrous prints with a subtle gradation of tones from dark to light and became the most common form of photography in the 19th century, seen here in works by Julia Margaret Cameron, Roger Fenton, and Gustave Le Gray.

Near the turn of the 20th century, a number of new, complex print processes emerged, such as platinum and palladium, gum dichromate, and bromoil. Often requiring significant manipulation by the hand of the artist, these processes were favored by photographers such as Gertrude Käsebier, Alfred Stieglitz, and Edward Weston.

One of the most significant developments of the late 19th century was the introduction of gelatin into photographic processes, which led to the invention of the film negative and the gelatin silver print. These became the standard for 20th-century black-and-white photography. A chronological selection of gelatin silver prints, including a contact print made by André Kertész in 1912; a grainy, blurred image of Little Italy’s San Gennaro festival at night by Sid Grossman from 1948 [see photograph above]; and a coolly precise industrial landscape by Frank Gohlke from 1975, reveals how the introduction of the film negative and changes in the gelatin silver print process profoundly shaped the direction of modern photography. This section also explores the development of ink-based, photomechanical processes such as photogravure, Woodburytype, and halftone that enabled the large-scale, high-quality reproduction of photographs in books and magazines.

The final section of the exhibition explores the rise of color photography in the 20th century. Although the introduction of chromogenic color processes made color photography commercially viable by the 1930s, it was not widely employed by artists until the 1970s. The exhibition celebrates the pioneers of color photography, including Harry Callahan and William Eggleston, who made exceptional work using the complicated dye transfer process. The exhibition also explores the range of processes developed by the Polaroid Corporation that provided instant gratification to the user, from Andy Warhol’s small SX-70 prints to the large-scale Polaroid prints represented by the work of contemporary photographer David Levinthal.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Art website

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Harry Callahan
‘Providence’
1977
dye transfer print

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William Eggleston
Untitled (Car in Parking Lot)
1973
dye imbibition print
National Gallery of Art, Washington Anonymous Gift

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Platt D. Babbitt
Niagara Falls
c. 1860
ambrotype
National Gallery of Art, Washington Vital Projects Fund

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Gustave Le Gray
‘Cavalry Maneuvers behind barrier, Camp de Châlons’
1857
albumen silver print from glass negative

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Roger Fenton
The Cloisters, Tintern Abbey
1854
salted paper print from a collodion negative
National Gallery of Art, Washington Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel

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Robert Adams
Summer Nights #2 (Longmont, Colorado)
1979
gelatin silver print
National Gallery of Art, Washington Gift of Mary and David Robinson

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The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

The National Gallery of Art, located on the National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets at Constitution Avenue NW, is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

National Gallery of Art website

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3 Responses to “Exhibition: ‘In the Darkroom: Photographic Processes before the Digital Age’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.”


  1. 1 bunyanth
    March 2, 2010 at 7:27 am

    Hi Mark
    I hope you are well 🙂

    I have amended the post to include your request at the top.
    I hope that you have some luck with what sounds to be a wonderful endeavour.

    Marcus

  2. 2 Mr. Mark Starr
    March 2, 2010 at 4:51 am

    I have aquired an old charred and beaten wooden ammo box I think it dates back to the 1850’s as it is filled with literally 100+ glass negatives, possibly made by the “dry collodion” method. Can anyone PLEASE let me know who to contact for info on how to go about any method I could use to possibly verify the original Photographer, or to produce prints from these EXTREMELY delicate plates using today’s technics. As soon as I have ascertained some semblance of authenticity the entire collection will be made available to all persons sharing interest in these flawless remnants of over a century ago.
    Any assistance in steering me in the next direction will be GREATLY appreciated.
    With Sincere Thanks,
    Mr. Mark Starr
    (925)565-9293


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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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