Archive for the 'Edward S. Curtis' Category

22
May
16

Exhibition: ‘Edward S. Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks’ at the Palm Springs Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 20th February – 29th May  2016

 

Not only was he one of the greatest ethnographic photographers of all time (as well as being an ethnographer recording more than 10,000 songs on a primitive wax cylinder, and writing down vocabularies and pronunciation guides for 75 languages) … he was also an aesthetic photographer. Looking at his photographs you can feel that he adhered to the principles of the nature and appreciation of beauty situated within the environment of the Native American cultures and peoples. He had a connection to the people and to the places he was photographing.

Curtis created a body of work unparrallleled in the annals of photography – an ethnographic study of an extant civilisation before it vanished (or so they thought at the time). Such a project stretched over thirty years, producing 45-50 thousand negatives “many of them on glass and some as large as fourteen by seventeen inches” of which 2,200 original photographs appeared in his magnum opus:

The North American Indian: a twenty-volume, twenty-portfolio set of books hand – bound in leather, with hand-set letter press text and hand -pulled photogravure prints, all printed on handmade, imported etching stock. [It] contained more than 2,200 original photographs, printed in photogravure, and nearly 4,000 pages of anthropological text including transcriptions of language and music. Each set included twenty quarto-size volumes containing approximately seventy-five original photogravures and two hundred pages of text. The volumes were supplemented by bound portfolios, each containing approximately thirty-six oversize gravures on eighteen-by-twenty-two-inch etching stock. Curtis offered subscribers their choice of three premium handmade papers: Dutch Van Gelder, Japanese Vellum, and India Proof Paper (commonly known as tissue).” (Text from the Cardoza Fine Art website)

While all great photographers have both technical skill and creative ability it is the dedication of this artist to his task over so many years that sets him apart. That dedication is critically coupled with his innate ability to capture the “spirit” of the Native American cultures and peoples, their humanity. In other hands this material could have felt dead but as the text from the Cardoza Fine Art website states:

“Having become deeply impassioned by the power and dignity of the American Indian, Curtis began to realize for the first time that he might create a record preserving the history of these magnificent people and their extraordinary culture. In the same letter to Grinnell, Curtis went on to say, “But I can start-and sell prints of my pictures as I go along. I’m a poor man, but I’ve got my health, plenty of steam, and something to work for.” Curtis was thirty-two years old, with a family and a thriving business. His willingness to put at risk everything he had worked for up until then is a testament to his enlightened view of humanity, the strength of his individualism, and his creative genius… Yet Curtis had no way of knowing that he was about to embark on a thirty-year odyssey that would have unforeseen tragic consequences; his wife would divorce him, and he would lose his family, his financial success, and his physical and emotional health – all in the pursuit of his big dream.”

He might have been a poor man but he was strong in spirit. You can feel it in his work. And he had a vision – “It’s such a big dream, I can’t see it all.”

For that dream and for his inspiration, we are eternally grateful.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Palm Springs Art Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. All texts about each tribe are taken from the Wikipedia website.

 

 

“When he started in 1896, Indians were at their low ebb, with a total population that had dwindled to less than 250,000. Many scholars thought they would disappear within a generation’s time. Curtis set out to document lifestyle, creation myths and language. He recorded more than 10,000 songs on a primitive wax cylinder, and wrote down vocabularies and pronunciation guides for 75 languages.”

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Thomas Eagan, biographer of Edward S. Curtis

 

“One of Curtis’ enthusiastic early backers, Theodore Roosevelt – who authored the introduction to Volume One – was, “like many of Curtis’ eventual supporters,” writes Valerie Daniels, “more interested in obtaining a record of vanishing Native American cultures as a testament to the superiority of his own civilization than out of any concern over their situation or recognition of his own role in the process.” Though Curtis did not necessarily share these views, and later became “radical in his admonition of government policies toward Native Americans,” he also had to please his financiers and his audience, most of whom would have felt the way Roosevelt did. We should bear this cultural context in mind as we take in Curtis’ work, and ask how it shaped the creation and reception of this truly impressive record of both American history and American myth.”

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Text from the Open Culture website, May 17th, 2016 [Online] Cited 25/05/2016

 

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'A Mono Home' 1924

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
A Mono Home
1924
Photogravure
Courtesy of the Christopher G. Cardozo Collection

 

 

Mono

The Mono /ˈmn/ are a Native American people who traditionally live in the central Sierra Nevada, the Eastern Sierra (generally south of Bridgeport), the Mono Basin, and adjacent areas of the Great Basin…

Throughout recorded history, the Mono have also been known as “Mona,” “Monache,” or “Northfork Mono,” as labeled by E.W. Gifford, an ethnographer studying people in the vicinity of the San Joaquin River in the 1910s. The tribe’s western neighbors, the Yokuts, called them monachie meaning “fly people” because fly larvae was their chief food staple and trading article. That led to the name Mono. The Mono referred to themselves as Nyyhmy in the Mono language; a full blooded Mono person was called cawu h nyyhmy.

Today, many of the tribal citizens and descendents of the Mono tribe inhabit the town of North Fork (thus the label “Northfork Mono”) in Madera County. People of the Mono tribe are also spread across California in: the Owens River Valley; the San Joaquin Valley and foothills areas, especially Fresno County; and in the San Francisco Bay Area.

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'Kutenai Duck Hunter' 1910

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
Kutenai Duck Hunter
1910
Photogravure
Courtesy of the Christopher G. Cardozo Collection

 

 

Kutenai / Ktunaxa

The Ktunaxa (English pronunciation:  /tʌˈnɑːhɑː/ tun-ah-hah; Kutenai pron. [ktunʌ́χɑ̝]), also known as Kutenai (English /ˈktnni/), Kootenay (predominant spelling in Canada) and Kootenai (predominant spelling in the United States), are an indigenous people of North America. There are four bands that form the Ktunaxa Nation and the historic allied and through intermarriage kindred Shuswap Indian Band in British Columbia, in Montana together with the Bitterroot Salish (also known as Flathead) and Upper Pend d’Oreilles they are part of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation. There are also the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho in Idaho and small populations in Washington in the United States, where they are part of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

The Kutenai language is an isolate, unrelated to the languages of neighbouring peoples… The Ktunaxa people today live in southeastern British Columbia, Washington State, Idaho, and Montana. In Montana they are known as Ksanka. Ktunaxa is the term that these tribes call themselves, which is pronounced Ta-na-ha, with a barely perceptible ‘k’ sound at the beginning of the word. Traditionally these people have been known as Kootenay or Kootenai, which is an anglicisation of the Blackfoot word used to refer to the Ktunaxa, so in some of their tribal organizations and activities, the Ktunaxa refer to themselves as Kootenay, or in Montana, Kootenai.

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'An Oasis in the Badlands' 1905

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
An Oasis in the Badlands
1905
Photogravure
Courtesy of the Christopher G. Cardozo Collection

 

 

This classic Curtis image was made in the heart of the Bad Lands of South Dakota. The subject is Red Hawk who was born 1854 and was a fierce warrior who ultimately engaged in 20 battles, including the Custer fight in 1876. This lyrical image is widely considered to be Curtis’ most important and beautiful Great Plains peopled landscape. Curtis loved the visual and metaphorical qualities of water, and the image conveys the beauty of water as an aesthetic element. The compelling composition and subject matter have helped make this one of Curtis’ most sought-after images, even one hundred years after it was originally created. (Text from Cardoza Fine Art website)

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'Winter - Apsaroke' 1908

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
Winter – Apsaroke
1908
Photogravure
Courtesy of the Christopher G. Cardozo Collection

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'Canyon de Chelly - Navaho' 1904

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
Canyon de Chelly – Navaho
1904
Photogravure
Courtesy of the Christopher G. Cardozo Collection

 

 

Canyon de Chelly

Canyon de Chelly long served as a home for Navajo people before it was invaded by forces led by future New Mexico governor Lt. Antonio Narbona in 1805. In 1863 Col. Kit Carson sent troops to either end of the canyon to defeat the Navajo population within. The resulting devastation led to the surrender of the Navajos and their removal to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico.

Navaho

The Navajo (Navajo: Diné or Naabeehó) are a Native American people of the Southwestern United States. They are the second largest federally recognized tribe in the United States with 300,460 enrolled tribal members as of 2015. The Navajo Nation constitutes an independent governmental body that manages the Navajo reservation in the Four Corners area, including over 27,000 square miles of land in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. The Navajo language is spoken throughout the region with most Navajo speaking English as well.

The states with the largest Navajo populations are Arizona (140,263) and New Mexico (108,306). Over three-quarters of the Navajo population reside in these two states.

The Long Walk

Beginning in the spring of 1864, around 9,000 Navajo men, women and children were forced to embark on a trek of over 300 miles (480 km) to Fort Sumner, New Mexico for internment at Bosque Redondo. The internment at Bosque Redondo was a failure for many reasons as the government failed to provide an adequate supply of water, wood, provisions, and livestock for 4,000-5,000 people. Large scale crop failure and disease were also endemic during this time, as well as raids by other tribes and civilians. In addition, a small group of Mescalero Apaches, long enemies of the Navajo, had been relocated to the area resulting in conflicts. In 1868, a treaty was negotiated between Navajo leaders and the Federal government allowing the surviving Navajo to return to a reservation on a portion of their former homeland. The Navajos were not provided with much protection that other enemies of the Navajos would swoop in and take Navajo women and children back to their camps and force them to work as slaves. While at Bosque Redondo the government did not provide the Navajos with food or shelter and some Navajos froze during the winter because of poor shelters that they had to make on their own.

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'Untitled (Raven-ma) - Qagyuhl' 1914

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
Untitled (Raven-ma) – Qagyuhl
1914
Gelatin silver
Courtesy of the Christopher G. Cardozo Collection

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'Watching the Dancers' 1906

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
Watching the Dancers
1906
Photogravure
Courtesy of the Christopher G. Cardozo Collection

 

 

Three Hopi girls, wrapped in heavy blankets and wearing the squash blossom hairstyle of maidens, sit and stand on an adobe rooftop, watching a pueblo dance below. A fourth girl is hidden behind the girl at right, with only a single twist of her hair visible over the standing girl’s shoulder. The standing girl glances suspiciously at the photographer, Edward Curtis, who has invaded the girls’ privacy with his camera’s presence. In this photograph, the onlookers have themselves become an event to be witnessed. (Text from the J. Paul Getty Museum website)

Curtis visited the Hopi on multiple occasions and went as early as 1900, went back in 1902, 1904, 1906, 1911, 1912, and 1919, so dating which images where shot when can pose something of a challenge, but he does note that the traditional squash blossom hairdo was discontinued by the second decade of the twentieth century. In these early images, “Watching the Dancers” and “The Hopi Maiden,” Curtis captured young unwed women at a time when they still wore their hair in the traditional style. So one can understand that such images confirmed his, and other’s views, that traditional ways of life where passing, and for Curtis, it confirmed the popular view, which his images helped to cement in the popular imagination – that Native Americans were a “vanishing race.” (Text by Ken Gonzales-Day, Scripps College)

Hopi

The Hopi are a Native American tribe, who primarily live on the 2,531.773 sq mi (6,557.26 km2) Hopi Reservation in northeastern Arizona. As of 2010, there were 18,327 Hopi in the United States, according to the 2010 census. The Hopi language is one of the 30 of the Uto-Aztecan languagefamily. The majority of Hopi people are enrolled in the Hopi Tribe of Arizona but some are enrolled in the Colorado River Indian Tribes…

The name Hopi is a shortened form of their autonym, Hopituh Shi-nu-mu (“The Peaceful People” or “Peaceful Little Ones”). The Hopi Dictionary gives the primary meaning of the word “Hopi” as: “behaving one, one who is mannered, civilized, peaceable, polite, who adheres to the Hopi way.” In the past, Hopi sometimes used the term “Hopi” and its cognates to refer to the Pueblo peoples in general, in contrast to other, more warlike tribes. Hopi is a concept deeply rooted in the culture’s religion, spirituality, and its view of morality and ethics. To be Hopi is to strive toward this concept, which involves a state of total reverence and respect for all things, to be at peace with these things, and to live in accordance with the instructions of Maasaw, the Creator or Caretaker of Earth. The Hopi observe their traditional ceremonies for the benefit of the entire world.

Traditionally, Hopi are organized into matrilineal clans. When a man marries, the children from the relationship are members of his wife’s clan. These clan organizations extend across all villages. Children are named by the women of the father’s clan. On the twentieth day of a baby’s life, the women of the paternal clan gather, each woman bringing a name and a gift for the child. In some cases where many relatives would attend, a child could be given over forty names, for example. The child’s parents generally decide the name to be used from these names. Current practice is to either use a non-Hopi or English name or the parent’s chosen Hopi name. A person may also change the name upon initiation into one of the religious societies, such as the Kachina society, or with a major life event.

The Hopi have always viewed their land as sacred. Agriculture is a very important part of their culture, and their villages are spread out across the northern part of Arizona. The Hopi and the Navajo did not have a conception of land being bounded and divided. They lived on the land that their ancestors did. On December 16, 1882 President Arthur passed an executive order creating a reservation for the Hopi. It was much smaller than the Navajo reservation, which was the largest in the country.

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'Bear's Belly - Arikara' 1908

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
Bear’s Belly – Arikara
1908
Photogravure
Courtesy of the Christopher G. Cardozo Collection

 

 

Born in 1847 in the present day North Dakota, Bear’s Belly was a highly respected and honored warrior and became a member of the Bears in the Medicine Fraternity. He acquired his bearskin in a dramatic battle in which he single-handedly killed three bears, thus gaining his personal “medicine”. This image was printed as a photogravure, plate 150 from Portfolio V, with the text below from the accompanying Volume V of Curtis’ The North American Indian.

Born in 1847 at Fort Clark in the present North Dakota. He had no experience in war when at the age of nineteen he joined Custer’s scouts at Fort Abraham Lincoln, having been told by old men of the tribe that such a course was the surest way to gain honors. Shortly after his arrival, Custer led a force into the Black Hills country; in the course of which, the young Arikara counted two first coups and one second. Bear’s Belly fasted once. Going to an old man for advice, he was taken to the outskirts of the village to an old buffalo skull, commanded to strip, smear his body with white clay, and sit in front of the skull. When he had taken the assigned position, the old man held up a large knife and an awl while he addressed the buffalo skull: “this young man sits in front of you, and is going to endure great suffering. Look upon him with great favor, you and Neshanu, and give him a long, prosperous life.” With that he cut pieces of skin from the faster’s breast and held them out to the buffalo skull. Bear’s Belly married at the age of nineteen. He became a member of the Bears in the medicine fraternity and relates the following story of an occurrence connected with that event:

“Needing a bearskin in my medicine-making, I went, at the season when the leaves were turning brown, into the White-Clay hills. All the thought of my heart that day was to see a bear and kill him. I passed an eagle trap, but did not stop: it was a bear I wanted, not an eagle. Coming suddenly to the brink of a cliff I saw me three bears. My heart wished to go two ways: I wanted a bear. But to fight three was hard. I decided to try it, and, descending, crept up to within forty yards of them, where I stopped to look around for a way of escape if they charged me. The only way out was by the cliff, and as I could not climb well in moccasins I removed them. One bear was standing with his side toward me, another was walking slowly toward him on the other side. I waited until the second one was close to the first and pulled the trigger. The farther one fell; the bullet had passed through the body of one and into the brain of the other. The wounded one charged, and I ran, loading my rifle, then turned and shot again, breaking his backbone. He lay there on the ground only ten paces from me and I see his face twitching. A noise caused me to remember the third bear, which I saw rushing upon me only six or seven paces away, I was yelling to keep up my courage and the bear was growling in his anger. He rose on his hind legs, and I shot, with my gun nearly touching his chest. He gave a howl and ran off. The bear with the broken back was dragging himself about with his forelegs, and I went to him and said, “I came looking for you to be my friend, to be with me always.” Then I reloaded my gun and shot him through the head. His skin I kept, but the other two I sold.”

Text from the Cardoza Fine Art website, November 23, 2011 [Online] Cited 21/05/2016

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'Sioux Mother and Child' 1905

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
Sioux Mother and Child
1905
Platinum print
Courtesy of the Christopher G. Cardozo Collection

 

 

Sioux

The Sioux /ˈs/ are a Native American tribe and First Nations band government in North America. The term can refer to any ethnic group within the Great Sioux Nation or any of the nation’s many language dialects. The Sioux comprise three major divisions based on language variety and subculture: the Santee, the Yankton-Yanktonai, and the Lakota.

The Santee (Isáŋyathi; “Knife”) reside in the extreme east of the Dakotas, Minnesota and northern Iowa. The Yankton and Yanktonai (Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋ and Iháŋktȟuŋwaŋna; “Village-at-the-end” and “Little village-at-the-end”), collectively also referred to by the endonym Wičhíyena, reside in the Minnesota River area. They are considered to be the middle Sioux, and have in the past been erroneously classified as Nakota. The Lakota, also called Teton (Thítȟuŋwaŋ; possibly “Dwellers on the prairie”), are the westernmost Sioux, known for their hunting and warrior culture.

Today, the Sioux maintain many separate tribal governments scattered across several reservations, communities, and reserves in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Montana in the United States; and Manitoba and southern Saskatchewan in Canada.

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'The Apache Maiden' 1906

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
The Apache Maiden
1906
Platinum print
Courtesy of the Christopher G. Cardozo Collection

 

 

“Palm Springs Art Museum is presenting the extraordinary Edward S. Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks exhibition, featuring vintage photographs that represent an important historical documentary of the Indians of North America; and Changing the Tone: Contemporary American Indian Photographers, showcasing works by living artists of Native American heritage. The exhibitions are on view now through May 29, 2016.

Beginning in 1900, Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) set out on a monumental quest to create an unprecedented, comprehensive record of the Indians of North America. The culmination of his 30-year project led to his magnum opus, “The North American Indian,” a twenty-volume, twenty-portfolio set of handmade books containing a selection of over 2,200 original photographs. Today One Hundred Masterworks stands as a landmark in the history of photography, book publishing, ethnography, and the history of the American West, producing an art historical record of enormous and irreplaceable importance.

One Hundred Masterworks presents an extraordinary selection of vintage photographs by Curtis that highlight both iconic and little known images that reveal the aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual qualities of his art. The exhibition showcases seven photographic print mediums including photogravure, platinum, goldtone (orotone), toned and un-toned gelatin silver, cyanotype, and gold-toned printing-out paper prints. Arranged by geographic region, the exhibition includes a selection of Curtis’s most compelling and rare photographs that look beyond the documentary nature of his work to focus on his aesthetic and technical contributions to the art of photography. Accompanying the exhibition is a 184-page catalogue available for purchase at the Museum Store at Palm Springs Art Museum.

In conjunction with Edward S. Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks, the museum presents a special installation of photographs taken by Curtis on loan from the collections of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, along with a selection of Native American objects from Palm Springs Art Museum’s permanent collection.

The exhibition Edward S. Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks has been organized by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, Minneapolis/New York City/Paris/Lausanne, in collaboration with Palm Springs Art Museum. The Palm Springs showing is funded in part by the museum’s Western Art Council and its Gold Sponsors Donna MacMillan and Harold Matzner, and Mary Ingebrand-Pohlad, along with support from Carol and Jim Egan, Terra Foundation for American Art through Board Member Gloria Scoby, Luc Bernard and Mark Prior, and the museum’s Photography Collection Council. Exhibition Season Sponsors are Dorothy Meyerman and Marion and Bob Rosenthal.

Changing the Tone: Contemporary American Indian Photographers features photographs and videos by artists of Native American heritage including Gerald Clarke, Will Wilson, Kent Monkman, Nicholas Galanin, Shelley Niro, and Lewis de Soto. In images that reflect on portraiture, cultural heritage, and their relationship to the land, these artists offer diverse perspectives on Native American identity as well as on critical issues around photography as a documentary medium, i.e., the extent to which it is fact, fiction, or some combination of both. These works provide a contemporary context for Curtis’s historical photographs. Changing the Tone is organized by Palm Springs Art Museum with generous support from Roswitha Kima Smale and John Renner.”

Press release from the Palm Springs Art Museum

 

More images from the exhibition

These reproductions are freely available online (from websites such as the Library of Congress and Wikipedia).

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'Self Portrait' 1899

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
Self Portrait
1899
Photogravure

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'Chief Joseph - Nez Perce' 1903

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
Chief Joseph – Nez Perce
1903
Photogravure

 

 

The earth is the mother of all people, and all people should have equal rights upon it.

I believe much trouble would be saved if we opened our hearts more.

Treat all men alike. Give them the same law. Give them an even chance to live and grow.

It does not require many words to speak the truth.

 

Chief Joseph

Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, Hinmatóowyalahtq̓it in Americanist orthography, popularly known as Chief Joseph or Young Joseph (March 3, 1840 – September 21, 1904), succeeded his father Tuekakas (Chief Joseph the Elder) as the leader of the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of Nez Perce, a Native American tribe indigenous to the Wallowa Valley in northeastern Oregon, in the interior Pacific Northwest region of the United States.

He led his band during the most tumultuous period in their contemporary history when they were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in the Wallowa Valley by the United States federal government and forced to move northeast, onto the significantly reduced reservationin Lapwai, Idaho Territory. A series of events that culminated in episodes of violence led those Nez Perce who resisted removal, including Joseph’s band and an allied band of the Palouse tribe, to take flight to attempt to reach political asylum, ultimately with the Lakota led by Sitting Bull, who had sought refuge in Canada.

They were pursued eastward by the U.S. Army in a campaign led by General Oliver O. Howard. This 1,170-mile (1,900 km) fighting retreat by the Nez Perce in 1877 became known as the Nez Perce War. The skill with which the Nez Perce fought and the manner in which they conducted themselves in the face of incredible adversity led to widespread admiration among their military adversaries and the American public.

Coverage of the war in United States newspapers led to widespread recognition of Joseph and the Nez Perce. For his principled resistance to the removal, he became renowned as a humanitarian and peacemaker. However, modern scholars, like Robert McCoy and Thomas Guthrie, argue that this coverage, as well as Joseph’s speeches and writings, distorted the true nature of Joseph’s thoughts and gave rise to a “mythical” Chief Joseph as a “red Napoleon” that served the interests of the Anglo-American narrative of manifest destiny.

 

Nez Perce

‘The Nez Perce’ /ˌnɛzˈpɜːrs/ (autonym: Niimíipu) are an Indigenous people of the Plateau, who live in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, which is on the Columbia River Plateau. They are federally recognized as the Nez Perce Tribe and currently govern their reservation in Idaho. Anthropologists have written that the Nez Perce descend from the Old Cordilleran Culture, which moved south from the Rocky Mountains and west into lands where the tribe coalesced. Their name for themselves is Nimíipuu (pronounced [nimiːpuː]), meaning, “The People,” in their language, part of the Sahaptin family…

Nez Perce is a misnomer given by the interpreter of the Lewis and Clark Expedition at the time they first encountered the Nez Perce in 1805. It was a French term meaning “pierced nose.” This is an inaccurate description of the tribe. They did not practice nose piercing or wearing ornaments. The “pierced nose” tribe lived on and around the lower Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest and are commonly called the Chinook tribe by historians and anthropologists. The Chinook relied heavily upon salmon, as did the Nez Perce. The peoples shared fishing and trading sites but the Chinook were much more hierarchical in their social arrangements.

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'At the Old Well - Acoma' 1904

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
At the Old Well – Acoma
1904
Photogravure

 

 

Acoma Pueblo (/ˈækəmə/; Western Keresan: Haak’u; Zuni: Hakukya; Navajo: Haakʼoh) is a Native American pueblo approximately 60 miles (97 km) west of Albuquerque, New Mexico in the United States. Three villages make up Acoma Pueblo: Sky City (Old Acoma), Acomita, and Mcartys. The Acoma Pueblo tribe is a federally recognized tribal entity. The historical land of Acoma Pueblo totaled roughly 5,000,000 acres (2,000,000 ha). Only 10% of this land remains in the hands of the community within the Acoma Indian Reservation.

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'Geronimo - Apache' 1905

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
Geronimo – Apache
1905
Platinum print

 

 

Geronimo

Geronimo (Mescalero-Chiricahua: Goyaałé [kòjàːɬɛ́] “the one who yawns”; June 16, 1829 – February 17, 1909) was a prominent leader from the Bedonkohe band of the Chiricahua Apache tribe. From 1850 to 1886 Geronimo joined with members of three other Chiricahua Apache bands – the Chihenne, the Chokonen and the Nednhi – to carry out numerous raids as well as resistance to US and Mexican military campaigns in the northern Mexico states of Chihuahua and Sonora, and in the southwestern American territories of New Mexico and Arizona. Geronimo’s raids and related combat actions were a part of the prolonged period of the Apache-American conflict, that started with American settlement in Apache lands following the end of the war with Mexico in 1848…

Geronimo was not counted a chief among the Apache. At any one time, only about 30 to 50 Apaches would be numbered among his personal following. However, since he was a superb leader in raiding and revenge warfare he frequently led numbers larger than his own following. Among Geronimo’s own Chiricahua tribe many had mixed feelings about him—while respected as a skilled and effective leader of raids or warfare, he emerges as not very likable, and he was not widely popular among the other Apache. Nevertheless, Apache people stood in awe of Geronimo’s “powers” which he demonstrated to them on a series of occasions. These powers indicated to other Apaches that Geronimo had super-natural gifts that he could use for good or ill. In eye-witness accounts by other Apaches Geronimo was able to become aware of events, as they happened, though they were at a far distant place, and he was able to anticipate events that were in the future. He also demonstrated powers to heal other Apaches.

Apache

The Apache (/əˈpæ/; French: [a.paʃ]) are culturally related Native American tribes from the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. These indigenous peoples of North America speak Southern Athabaskan languages, which are related linguistically to Athabaskan languages in Alaskaand western Canada. Apache people traditionally have lived in Eastern Arizona, Northern Mexico (Sonora and Chihuahua), New Mexico, West Texas, and Southern Colorado. Apacheria, their collective homelands, consists of high mountains, sheltered and watered valleys, deep canyons, deserts, and the southern Great Plains…

Apache groups are politically autonomous. The major groups speak several different languages and developed distinct and competitive cultures. The current post-colonial division of Apache groups includes Western Apache, Chiricahua, Mescalero, Jicarilla, Lipan, and Plains Apache (also known as the Kiowa-Apache). Apache groups live in Oklahoma and Texas and on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico. Apache people have moved throughout the United States and elsewhere, including urban centers.

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'The Piki Maker' 1906

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
The Piki Maker
1906
Vintage goldtone

 

Piki is a bread made from corn meal used in Hopi cuisine.

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'Qahatika Girl' 1907

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
Qahatika Girl
1907
Photogravure

 

 

Qahatika

The Qahatika (or Kohatk) were a Native American tribe of the Southwestern United States. They were apparently a subtribe of the Tohono O’Odham, and lived in the vicinity of present-day Quijotoa, Arizona.

According to Edward Sheriff Curtis, the Qahatika belonged to the Pima group of tribes and lived in five villages “in the heart of the desert south of the Gila River”,[2] about forty miles from the Pima reservation. A legend said that after the Pima suffered defeat in a war with Apache, the tribe fled and split. One splinter of the tribe, the ancestors of Qahatika, went into the barren desert and settled there in separation from other Pimas. The Qahatika, according to Curtis, managed to find land suitable for growing wheat. Their methode of “dry farming” relied exclusively on winter rainfall: the soil near their villages was capable of retaining winter moisture for a whole season, and a few winter rains guaranteed a fair crop in summer. The Qahatika seen by Curtis were “almost identical in appearance” to Pima and Papago. They retained the Pima art of basket weaving and developed their own tradition of pottery. Their houses were built almost exclusively of dried giant cactus carcasses.

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'Shot in the Hand - Apsaroke' 1908

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
Shot in the Hand – Apsaroke
1908
Photogravure

 

 

Crow or Apsaroke

The Crow, called the Apsáalooke in their own Siouan language, or variants including Absaroka, are Native Americans, who in historical times lived in the Yellowstone River valley, which extends from present-day Wyoming, through Montana and into North Dakota, where it joins the Missouri River. Today, they are enrolled in the federally recognized Crow Tribe of Montana.

Pressured by the Ojibwe and Cree peoples (the Iron Confederacy), who had earlier and better access to guns through the fur trade, they had migrated there from the Ohio Eastern Woodland area to settle south of Lake Winnipeg, Canada. From there, they were pushed to the west by the Cheyennes. Both the Crow and the Cheyennes were then pushed farther west by the Lakota (Sioux), who took over the territory from the Black Hills of South Dakota to the Big Horn Mountains of Montana; the Cheyennes finally became close allies of the Sioux, but the Crows remained bitter enemies of both Sioux and Cheyennes. The Crow were generally friendly with the whites and managed to retain a large reservation of over 9300 km2 despite territorial losses. Since the 19th century, Crow people have been concentrated on their reservation established south of Billings, Montana. They also live in several major, mainly western, cities. Tribal headquarters are located at Crow Agency, Montana.

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952) 'Waiting in the Forest - Cheyenne' 1910

 

Edward S. Curtis (1868 – 1952)
Waiting in the Forest – Cheyenne
1910
Photogravure

 

 

Cheyenne

The Cheyenne (/ʃˈæn/ shy-an) are one of the groups of indigenous people of the Great Plains and their language is of the Algonquian language family. The Cheyenne comprise two Native American groups, the Só’taeo’o or Só’taétaneo’o (more commonly spelled as Suhtai or Sutaio) and the Tsétsêhéstâhese (also spelled Tsitsistas). These tribes merged in the early 19th century. Today, the Cheyenne people are split into two federally recognized groups: Southern Cheyenne, who are enrolled in the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes in Oklahoma, and the Northern Cheyenne, who are enrolled in the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana.

 

 

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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) 'First Communion (Dorchester, Mass.)' 1976

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Eugene Richards (born Boston, MA 1944)
First Communion (Dorchester, Mass.)
1976
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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22
Jun
11

Review: ‘American Dreams: 20th century photography from George Eastman House’ at Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria

Exhibition dates: 16th April – 10th July 2011

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Many thankx to Tansy Curtin, Senior Curator, Programs and Access at Bendigo Art Gallery for her time and knowledge when I visited the gallery; and to Bendigo Art Gallery for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Gertrude Käsebier
The Sketch (Beatrice Baxter)
1903
platinum print
Gift of Hermine Turner
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

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Dorothea Lange
Kern County California
1938
gelatin silver print
Exchange with Roy Stryker
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

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Ansel Adams
Winter Storm
1942

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Diane Arbus
Untitled (6)
1971

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This is a fabulous survey exhibition of the great artists of 20th century American photography, a rare chance in Australia to see such a large selection of vintage prints from some of the masters of photography. If you have a real interest in the history of photography you must see this exhibition, showing as it is just a short hour and a half drive (or train ride) from Melbourne at Bendigo Art Gallery.

I talked with the curator, Tansy Curtin, and asked her about the exhibition’s gestation. This is the first time an exhibition from the George Eastman House has come to Australia and the exhibition was 3-4 years in the making. Tansy went to George Eastman House in March last year to select the prints; this was achieved by going through solander box after solander box of vintage prints and seeing what was there, what was available and then making work sheets for the exhibition – what a glorious experience this would have been, undoing box after box to reveal these magical prints!

The themes for the exhibition were already in the history of photography and Tansy has chosen almost exclusively vintage prints that tell a narrative story, that make that story accessible to people who know little of the history of photography. With that information in mind the exhibition is divided into the following sections:

Photography becomes art; The photograph as social document; Photographing America’s monuments; Abstraction and experimentation; Photojournalism and war photography; Fashion and celebrity portraiture; Capturing the everyday; Photography in colour; Social and environmental conscience; and The contemporary narrative.

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There are some impressive, jewel-like contact prints in the exhibition. One must remember that, for most of the photographers working after 1940, exposure, developing and printing using Ansel Adams Zone System (where the tonal range of the negative and print can be divided into 11 different ‘zones’ from 0 for absolute black and to 10 for absolute white) was the height of technical sophistication and aesthetic choice, equal to the best gaming graphics from today’s age. It was a system that I used in my black and white film development and printing. Film development using a Pyrogallol staining developer (the infamous ‘pyro’, a developer I tried to master without success in a few trial batches of film) was also technically difficult but the ability of this developer to obtain a greater dynamic range of zones in the film itself was outstanding.

“The Zone System provides photographers with a systematic method of precisely defining the relationship between the way they visualize the photographic subject and the final results… An expressive image involves the arrangement and rendering of various scene elements according to photographer’s desire. Achieving the desired image involves image management (placement of the camera, choice of lens, and possibly the use of camera movements) and control of image values. The Zone System is concerned with control of image values, ensuring that light and dark values are rendered as desired. Anticipation of the final result before making the exposure is known as visualization.”1

Previsualisation, the ability of the photographer to see ‘in the mind’s eye’ the outcome of the photograph (the final print) before even looking through the camera lens to take the photograph, was an important skill for most of these photographers. This skill has important implications for today’s photographers, should they choose to develop this aspect of looking: not as a mechanistic system but as a meditation on the possibilities of each part of the process, the outcome being an expressive print.

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A selection of the best photographs in the exhibition could include,

1. An original 1923 Alfred Steiglitz Equivalent contact print  – small (approx 9cm x 12cm, see below), intense, the opaque brown blacks really strong, the sun shining brightly through the velvety clouds. In the Equivalents series the photograph was purely abstract, standing as a metaphor for another state of being, in this case music. A wonderful melding of the technical and the aesthetic the Equivalents’ “are generally recognized as the first photographs intended to free the subject matter from literal interpretation, and, as such, are some of the first completely abstract photographic works of art.”2

2. Paul Strand Blind (1915, printed 1945) – printed so dark that you cannot see the creases in the coat of the blind woman with a Zone 3 dark skin tone.

3. Lewis Hine [Powerhouse mechanic] see below, vintage 1920 print full of subtle tones. Usually when viewing reproductions of this image it is either cropped or the emphasis is on the body of the mechanic; in this print his skin tones are translucent, silvery and the emphasis is on the man in unison with the machine. The light is from the top right of the print and falls not on him directly, but on the machinery at upper right = this is the emotional heart of this image!

4. Three tiny vintage Tina Modotti prints from c. 1929 – so small, such intense visions. I have never seen one original Modotti before so to see three was just sensational.

5. Walker Evans View of Morgantown, West Virginia vintage 1935 print – a cubist dissection of space and the image plane with two-point perspective of telegraph pole with lines.

6. An Edward S. Curtis photogravure Washo Baskets (1924, from the portfolio The North American Indian) – such a sumptuous composition and the tones…

7. Ansel Adams 8″ x 10″ contact print of Winter Storm (1944, printed 1959, see above) where the blackness of the mountain on the left hand side of the print was almost impenetrable and, because of the large format negative, the snow on the rock in mid-distance was like a sprinkling of icing sugar on a cake it was that sharp.

8. A most splendid print of the Chrysler Building (vintage 1930 print, approx. 48 x 34  cm) by Margaret Bourke-White – tonally rich browns, smoky, hazy city at top; almost like a platinum print rather than a silver gelatin photograph. The bottom left of the print was SO dark but you could still see into the shadows just to see the buildings.

9. An original Robert Capa 1944 photograph from the Omaha Beach D Day landings !!

10. Frontline soldier with canteen, Saipan (1944, vintage print) by W Eugene Smith where the faces of the soldiers were almost Zone 2-3 and there was nothing in the print above zone 5 (mid-grey) – no physical and metaphoric light.

11. One of the absolute highlights: two vintage Edward Weston side by side, the form of one echoing the form of the other; Nude from the 50th Anniversary Portfolio 1902 – 1952 (1936, printed 1951), an 8″ x 10″ contact print side by side with an 8″ x 10″ contact print of Pepper No. 30 (vintage 1930 print). Nothing over zone 7 in the skin tones of the nude, no specular highlights; the sensuality in the pepper just stunning – one of my favourite prints of the day – look at the tones, look at the light!

12. Three vintage Aaron Siskind (one of my favourite photographers) including two early prints from 1938 – wow. Absolutely stunning.

13. Harry Callahan. That oh so famous image of Eleanor and Barbara, Chicago (vintage 1953 print) that reminds me of the work of Jeffrey Smart (or is it the other way around). The wonderful space around the figures, the beautiful composition, the cobblestones and the light – just ravishing.

14. The absolute highlight: Three vintage Diane Arbus prints in a row – including a 15″ square image from the last series of work Untitled (6) (vintage 1971 print, see above) – the year in which she committed suicide. This had to be the moment of the day for me. This has always been one of my favourite photographs ever and it did not disappoint; there was a darkness to the trees behind the three figures and much darker grass (zone 3-4) than I had ever imagined with a luminous central figure. The joyousness of the figures was incredible. The present on the ground at the right hand side was a reveleation – usually lost in reproductions this stood out from the grass like you wouldn’t believe in the print. Being an emotional person I am not afraid to admit it, I burst into tears…

15. And finally another special…. Two vintage Stephen Shore chromogenic colour prints from 1976 where the colours are still true and have not faded. This was incredible – seeing vintage prints from one of the early masters of colour photography; noticing that they are not full of contrast like a lot of today’s colour photographs – more like a subtle Panavision or Technicolor film from the early 1960s. Rich, subtle, beautiful hues. For a contemporary colour photographer the trip to Bendigo just to see these two prints would be worth the time and the car trip/rail ticket alone!

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Not everything is sweetness and light. The print by Dorothea Lange Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California is a contemporary print from 2003, the vintage print having just been out on loan; the contemporary section, The contemporary narrative, is very light on, due mainly to the nature of the holdings of George Eastman House; and there are some major photographers missing from the line up including Minor White, Fredrick Sommer, Paul Caponigro, Wynn Bullock and William Clift to name just a few.

Of more concern are the reproductions in the catalogue, the images for reproduction supplied by George Eastman House and the catalogue signed off by them. The reproduction of Margaret Bourke-White’s Chrysler Building (1930, see below) bears no relationship to the print in the exhibition and really is a denigration to the work of that wonderful photographer. Other reproductions are massively oversized, including the Alfred Stieglitz Equivalent, Lewis Hine’s Powerhouse mechanic (see below) and Tina Modotti’s Woman Carrying Child (c.1929). In Walter Benjamin’s terms (The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction) the aura of the original has been lost and these reproductions further erode the authenticity of the original in their infinite reproducability. Conversely, it could be argued that the reproduction auraticizes the original:

“The original artwork has become a device to sell its multiply-reproduced derivatives; reroductability turned into a ploy to auraticize the original after the decay of aura…”3

In other words, after having seen so many reproductions when you actually see the original –  it is like a bolt of lightning, the aura that emanates from the original. This is so true of this exhibition but it still begs the question: why reproduce in the catalogue at a totally inappropriate size? Personally, I believe that the signification of the reproduction (in terms of size and intensity of visualisation) is so widely at variance with the original one must question the decision to reproduce at this size knowing that this variance is a misrepresentation of the artistic interpretation of the author.

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In conclusion, this is a sublime exhibition well worthy of the time and energy to journey up to Bendigo to see it. A true lover of classical American black and white and colour photography would be a fool to miss it!

Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

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Actual size of print: 9.2 x 11.8 cm

Size of print in catalogue: 18.5 x 13.9 cm

These two photographs represent a proportionate relation between the two sizes as they appear in print and catalogue but because of monitor resolutions are not the actual size of the two prints.

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Alfred Stieglitz
Equivalent
1923
gelatin silver print
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film 

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Actual size of print: 16.9 x 11.8 cm

Size of print in catalogue: 23.2 x 15.8 cm

These two photographs represent a proportionate relation between the two sizes as they appear in print and catalogue but because of monitor resolutions are not the actual size of the two prints.

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Lewis Hine
[Powerhouse mechanic]
1920
gelatin silver print
Transfer from the Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee, ex-collection Corydon Hine
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

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As it approximately appears in the exhibition (above, from my notes, memory and comparing the print in the exhibition with the catalogue reproduction)

Below, as the reproduction appears in the catalogue (scanned)

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Margaret Bourke-White
Chrysler Building
New York City
1930
Silver gelatin photograph

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“An exhibition of treasures from arguably the world’s most important photographic museum, George Eastman House, has been developed by Bendigo Art Gallery. The exhibition American Dreams will bring, for the first time, eighty of some of the most iconic photographic images from the 20th Century to Australia.

The choice of works highlights the trailblazing role these American artists had on the world stage in developing and shaping the medium, and the impact these widely published images had on the greater community.

Curator Tansy Curtin, who worked closely with George Eastman House developing the exhibition commented, “Through these images we can recognise the extraordinary ability of these artists, and their pivotal role influencing the evolution of photography. Their far-reaching images helped shape American culture, and impacted on the fundamental role photography has in communications today. Even more than this we can see through these artists the burgeoning love of photography that engaged a nation.”

Through these images we can see not only the development of photography, but also as some of the most powerful social documentary photography of last century, we see extraordinary moments captured in the lives of a wide range of Americans. The works distil the dramatic transformation that affected people during the 20th century – the affluence, degradation, loss, hope and change – both personally and throughout society.

The role of photography in nation building is exemplified in Ansel Adams’ majestic portraits of Yosemite national park, Bourke-White’s Chrysler building and images of migrants and farm workers during the Depression. Tansy Curtin added, “We see the United States ‘growing up’ through photography. We see hopes raised and crushed and the inevitable striving for the American Dream.” Director of Bendigo Art Gallery Karen Quinlan said, “We are thrilled to have been given this unprecedented opportunity to work with this unrivalled photographic archive. The resulting exhibition ‘American Dreams’, represents one of the most important and comprehensive collections of American 20th Century photography to come to Australia.”

George Eastman House holds over 400,000 images from the invention of photography to the present day. George Eastman, one time owner of the home in which the archives are housed, founded Kodak and revolutionised and democratised photography around the world. Eastman is considered the grandfather of snapshot photography.

American Dreams is one of the first exhibitions from this important collection to have been curated by an outside institution. It will be the first time Australian audiences have been given the opportunity to engage with this vast archive.”

Press release from the Bendigo Art Gallery

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Alfred Steiglitz
[Georgia O’Keefe hand on back tire of Ford V8]
1933
gelatin silver print
Part purchase and part gift from Georgia O’Keefe
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

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Walker Evans
Torn Poster, Truro, Massachusetts
1930
gelatin silver contact print
Purchased with funds from National Endowment for the Arts
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

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Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California
1936, printed c2003
photogravure print
Gift of Sean Corcoran
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

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1. Anon. “Zone System,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 13/06/2011
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zone_System

2. Anon. “Equivalents,” on Wikipedia [Online] Cited 13/06/2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivalents

3. Huyssen, Andreas. Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia. London: Routledge, 1995, pp. 23-24.

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Bendigo Art Gallery
42 View Street Bendigo
Victoria Australia 3550
T: 03 5434 6088

General admission fees for this exhibition
Adults – $12
Concession/tertiary – $10
Primary/secondary – $4

Opening hours:
Bendigo Art Gallery is open daily 10am to 5pm

Bendigo Art Gallery website

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13
Nov
08

Edward S. Curtis photograph

 

Edward S Curtis. "Nuhlihahla-Qagyuhl" nd

Edward S Curtis. “Nuhlihahla-Qagyuhl” nd

13
Nov
08

Edward S. Curtis: Visions of the First Americans (with Eugene Atget and Diane Arbus)

 

Following my thoughts on the series The First Australians on SBS we have this wonderful coffee table book of photographs: Edward S. Curtis: Visions of the First Americans with images taken from his seminal 20 volume work The North American Indian.

Curtis worked on the project from 1906 to 1927 hauling his large format glass plate camera across the United States much as Eugene Atget did at roughly the same time in Paris, taking photographs of the old city and its hotels, shops, parks and gardens. Atget died in 1927 with his art recognised by few whilst Curtis lived on into the 1950’s, dying in obscurity and poverty after the fame of his ground breaking work had disappeared. Both photographed a vanishing world capturing it for prosperity on fragile glass plates. Both brought to their projects a unique vision and a belief in what they were doing.

Atget’s photographs of people half seen through shop doors and windows, like shadows of the night. Curtis’s photographs of masked Yeibichei dancers wearing elaborate attire. Curtis thought he was photographing the dying races of the American Indians. Atget knew he was photographing the collapsing spaces of old Paris. Both use the space of the photograph to signify their intentions: an understanding of their subject matter, an empathy with a disappearing way of life, a need to record their vision of this world – and an intensity of insight into that condition.

No other photograph has the space and timelessness of an Atget.

No other image the presence of the plains that Curtis summoned.

His masked dancers remind me of the last photographs of the great American photographer Diane Arbus in their candour and beauty, posthumously called Untitled. Finally Arbus has found a subject matter that she could return to over and over again. As did Atget and Curtis.

As Doon Arbus has commented

“These images – created out of the courage to see things as they are, the grace to permit them simply to be, and a deceptive simplicity that permits itself neither fancy nor artifice … The photographs appear to be documents of a world we’ve never seen or imagined before – one with its own rituals and icons, its own games and fashions and codes of conduct – which, for all its strangeness, is at the same time hauntingly familiar and, in the end, no more or less unfathomable than our own.”

Arbus, Doon. “Afterword,” in Diane Arbus: Untitled. London: Thames and Hudson, 1995.

 

 

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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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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