Posts Tagged ‘Edward Weston Pepper no. 30

03
Jan
21

Exhibition: ‘Unearthed: Photography’s Roots’ at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Exhibition dates: 8th December 2020 – 9th May 2021

Curator: Alexander Moore

The exhibition will include work by the following 41 artists (in alphabetical order):

Nobuyoshi Araki, Anna Atkins, Alois Auer, Cecil Beaton, Karl Blossfeldt, Adolphe Braun, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Mat Collishaw, Imogen Cunningham, Roger Fenton, Adam Fuss, Ori Gersht, Cecilia Glaisher, Joy Gregory, William Henry Fox Talbot, Sir John Herschel, Gyula Holics, Jan van Huysum, Henry Irving, Charles Jones, Sarah Jones, André Kertész, Nick Knight, Lou Landauer, Richard Learoyd, Pradip Malde, Robert Mapplethorpe, John Moffat, Sarah Moon, James Mudd, Kazumasa Ogawa, T Enami, Dr Albert G Richards, Scowen & Co., Scheltens & Abbenes, Helen Sear, Edward Steichen, Josef Sudek, Lorenzo Vitturi, Edward Weston, Walter Woodbury.

 

 

Charles Jones (British, 1866-1959) 'Broccoli Leamington' c. 1895-1910

 

Charles Jones (British, 1866-1959)
Broccoli Leamington
c. 1895-1910
© Sean Sexton
Photo copyright Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

 

A difficult thing said simply

What a wonderful selection of photographs to start the year 2021.

As Laura Cumming observes, there is a profound connection between photography and photosynthesis – both created through light, both constructed and political. For the photograph is ALWAYS the choice of the photographer, and the landscape has ALWAYS been shaped and constructed since human beings emerged on this earth. Nothing in the natural world is ever “natural” but always mediated by time, space, context, power and desire. Desire to control the direction of a river, desire for food and shelter, desire for Lebensraum or living space as a practice of settler colonialism, desire to celebrate the “natural” world, desire to procreate, desire to propagate the (genetically modified) vegetable. A desire to desire.

Photography’s symbiotic relationship with the natural world is the relationship of photography and transmutation (the action of changing or the state of being changed into another form), photography and transmogrification (the act or process of changing or being changed completely). The natural world, through an action (that of being photographed), changes its state (flux) and, further, changes its state to a completely different form (fixed in liquid fixer; fixed, saved, but fluid, in the digital pixel). Flowers and vegetables are alive then wither and die, only to remain “the same” in the freeze frame of the death-defying photograph.

Photography’s fluidity and fixity – of movement, time, space, context, representation – allows “the infinite possibility of experimentation” not, as Cumming argues, “without the interference of humanity, accident, sound or movement” but through their very agency. It is the human hand that arranges these pyramidal broccoli, the accident of light in the photogram that allows us to pierce a clump of Bory’s Spleenwort root structure. It is human imagination, the movement of the human mind, that allows the artist Charles Jones to darken the Bean Longpod cases so that these become seared in the mind’s eye, fixed in all time and space as iconic image: the “transformation of an earthy root vegetable into an abstracted object worthy of adulation.”

While the process of photographing flower and vegetable may well be due to the interference of humanity, accident, sound or movement, contemplation or decisive moment, the final outcome of the image – the representation of the natural in the physicality of the print – usually attempts to hide these processes in images that are frozen in time, images that play on the notion of memento mori and the transient nature of life. In the presence of a triple death (ie. the death of the plant or flower, the time freeze or death moment of the photograph, and our knowledge that these plants and flowers in the photograph have already died), it is the abstraction of the death reality in images of flowers, plants and vegetables that allows for a touch of the soul. These photographs “provide a glimpse into the terrain of the unseen, or what German philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin coined the “optical unconsciousness”.”1 Here, photography allows us to capture the realm of the unseen and also allows us to glimpse the expansive terrain of the human imaginary. The camera reveals aspects of reality that register in our senses but never quite get processed consciously. (Is there anything “real” about Cunningham’s Two Callas 1929 other than a vibration of the energy of the cosmos?)

Still, still, still we are (unconsciously) aware of all that is embedded within a photograph for photography makes us feel, makes us remember “that which lies beyond the frame, or what photographs compel us to remember and forget, what they enable us to uncover and repress…”. Like any great work of art, when we look at a great photograph it is not what we BELIEVE that matters when we look, but how the art work makes us FEEL, how it touches the depths of our soul. These are the roots of photography, un/earthed, in the languages of image – (sub)conscious stories of the human imagination which seek to make sense of our roots in Earth.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

1. A different nature presents itself to the movie camera than to the naked eye. Instead of being something we enter into unconsciously or vaguely, in film we enter nature analytically. While a painter lovely caresses the surfaces of nature, the cameraman chucks a piece of dynamite at it, then reassembles the pieces:

“Our taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly. Then came the film and burst this prison-world asunder by the dynamite of the tenth of a second, so that now, in the midst of its far-clung ruins and debris, we calmly and adventurously go travelling.”

A movie camera can be mounted on a speeding locomotive, dropped down a sewer, or secreted in a valise and carried surreptitiously around a city. The camera reveals aspects of reality that register in our senses but never quite get processed consciously. Film changed how we view the least significant minutiae of reality just as surely as Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life changed how we look at incidental phenomenon like slips of the tongue. In other words, film serves as an optical unconscious. Benjamin asserts the film camera “introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.

“Richard Prouty. “The optical unconsciousness,” on the One-Way Street website Oct 16, 2009 [Online] Cited 03/01/2021

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Many thankx to the Dulwich Picture Gallery for allowing me to publish the artwork in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The Dulwich show amounts to a political history of photography by other means. Should it aspire to nothing more than the fictions of painting? Should it be a catalogue, a document, a celebration of the natural life? Where Glaisher records the precise difference between two varieties of fern, Jones observes the Sputnik-like eccentricity of a plucked turnip. Where Imogen Cunningham sees the perfect abstraction of a calla lily, Edward Weston anthropomorphises a pepper, so that it momentarily resembles the torso of a body-builder. …

Perhaps the desire to photograph the vegetable world brings its own peace, as well as the infinite possibility of experimentation without the interference of humanity, accident, sound or movement. But perhaps it also has something to do with the profound connection between photography and photosynthesis. The very light that gives life to a rose, before its petals drop, is the same light that preserves it in a death-defying photograph.”

.
Laura Cumming. “Unearthed: Photography’s Roots review – cauliflowers saying cheese…” on the Guardian website Sun 29 Nov 2020 [Online] Cited 23/12/2020

 

 

Anna Atkins (English, 1799-1871) 'Ceylon' c. 1850

 

Anna Atkins (English, 1799-1871)
Ceylon [examples of ferns]
c. 1850
Cyanotype

 

 

After publishing her own book of cyanotype photograms of British algae in the 1840s, Atkins collaborated with her childhood friend and fellow scholar Anna Dixon on a second book of photograms. The book, Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns, was published in 1853 and now resides in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

This particular image [above] is a selection from Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Ferns. A collection of four distinct ferns, it’s simply captioned “Ceylon”. At the time these cyanotypes were being made, the island of Ceylon – modern day Sri Lanka – was under British rule. It would be nearly another century before the island declared independence from Atkins’ home country. Despite the abundant difficulties of travel in the 1850s, Atkins’s many scientific and business connections no doubt helped her obtain several foreign specimens for this book of fern cyanotypes.

Anonymous text on the 20 x 200 website [Online] Cited 24/12/2020

 

This unique camera-less photograph was part of an extensive project to document plants from Great Britain and British colonies like Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and illustrates an early example of how important photography would become in our attempts to learn about and protect the natural world. Anna Atkins (British, 1799-1871) was a trained botanist who adopted photographic processes in order to describe, analyse, and, in a manner of speaking, preserve plant specimens from around the world. She is widely considered the first person to use photographs to illustrate a book, her British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions published in 1843. This particular photograph was produced with Anna Dixon for a later compilation: Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Ferns in 1854. With these and other projects, Atkins helped establish photography as an important tool in scientific and ecological observation. …

Atkins made all of her cyanotypes in England, often receiving specimens through imperial trade. This image, therefore, was produced over 5,000 miles away from where the plant originated

Brian Piper. “Object Lesson: Ceylon cyanotype by Anna Atkins,” on the New Orleans Museum of Art website March 23, 2020 [Online] Cited 24/12/2020.

 

Anna Atkins (English, 1799-1871) 'Plate 55 – Dictyota dichotoma, in the young state and in fruit' 1853

 

Anna Atkins (English, 1799-1871)
Plate 55 – Dictyota dichotoma, in the young state and in fruit
1853
From Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions Volume 1 (Part 1)
Cyanotype
Photo copyright Horniman Museum and Gardens

 

Cecilia Glaisher (British, 1828-1892) 'Bory's Spleenwort (Asplenium onopteris)' c. 1853-56

 

Cecilia Glaisher (British, 1828-1892)
Bory’s Spleenwort (Asplenium onopteris)
c. 1853-56
Salted paper print

 

 

Cecilia Glaisher (20 April 1828 – 28 December 1892) was an English amateur photographer, artist, illustrator and print-maker, working in the 1850s world of Victorian science and natural history. …

The British Ferns – Photographed from Nature by Mrs Glaisher was planned as an illustrated guide to identifying ferns, with the entomologist Edward Newman (1801-1876), a fern expert and publisher. Made using William Henry Fox Talbot’s photogenic drawing process during what has come to be known as the Victorian fern craze, it was to be published in a number of parts and intended to appeal to the growing number of fern collectors whose enthusiasm was fuelled by increasingly informative and magnificently illustrated fern publications. The use of photography, according to the printed handbill produced by Newman to promote the work, would allow fern specimens to be “displayed with incomparable exactness, producing absolute facsimiles of the objects, perfect in artistic effect and structural details”. A portfolio of ten prints, in mounts embossed with Newman’s publishing details, was presented by him to the Linnean Society in London in December 1855. However, perhaps due to an inability to raise sufficient subscriptions, or difficulties in producing prints in consistent quantities, the project appears to have been abandoned by 1856.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Roger Fenton. 'Fruit and Flowers' 1860

 

Roger Fenton (British, 1819-1869)
Fruit and Flowers
1860
Albumen print from a collodion negative
Victoria & Albert Museum

 

 

In tackling still lifes, Roger Fenton gave form to his ardent belief that no subject was off limits to photography, even one intimately linked to the history of painting and seemingly so dependent on colour. Faced with terrible weather in 1860 that curtailed his ability to photograph landscapes, Fenton drew upon the skills he had perfected earlier in the decade while photographing the collection of the British Museum and trained his lens on carefully balanced still-life arrangements. Cleverly massing and juxtaposing forms and tonal values, and brazenly taking advantage of photography’s ability to convey detail, Fenton quickly produced a series of unprecedented vivaciousness that convincingly demonstrated why photography should be counted as an art. Fruit and Flowers is among the last images this towering figure in the history of photography made before quitting photography for good at age 41.

Fruit and Flowers is an ebullient, in-your-face celebration of summer’s bounty. Shot head on and close up, the densely packed arrangement seems ready to tumble from the large, glossy 14- by nearly 17-inch albumen print made from a collodion negative. Dozens of juicy, sensuous grapes flank a tall, centred vase decorated with a tendril pattern; the vase holds pansies at its top while plums nestle at the base. At right, a few grapes dangle over the edge of a marble tabletop, falling into the viewer’s space, as does a striped, tasseled cloth at left. Star-shaped hoyas are reflected in a chased silver goblet, and two immense lilies, their stems obscured, appear to hover untethered above. The lilies are balanced compositionally by a large rose that faces the viewer, while a second rose, near the bottom, separates the grapes and a nude figurine. Ferns and lily of the valley complete the floral medley.

The prominent roses and lilies may allude to the sacred, as both are associated with the Virgin Mary, but myriad wine references, such as the grapes, the chalice decorated with grape vines, and especially the impish figurine, whose physical attributes link him to bacchanalian Roman festivals, point decidedly to the profane. At the same time, the withering rose, drooping leaves, and tired-looking plums remind the viewer that such pleasures are ephemeral.

Anonymous. “Fruit and Flowers: Roger Fenton,” on the National Gallery of Art website [Online] Cited 24/12/2020.

 

Charles Jones (British, 1866-1959) 'Bean Longpod' c. 1895-1910

 

Charles Jones (British, 1866-1959)
Bean Longpod
c. 1895-1910
© Sean Sexton
Photo copyright Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

 

In Bean Longpod (1895-1910), now on view in “Unearthed,” the titular plant cuts through the centre of the composition, leaving little room for anything else. Other works play with their subjects’ placement: Broccoli Leamington (1895-1910), for instance, finds large broccoli heads sitting atop one another in a pyramid-like formation. The overall effect of this unusual treatment, notes the Michael Hoppen Gallery, is the “transformation of an earthy root vegetable into an abstracted” object worthy of adulation. …

According to the Michael Hoppen Gallery, which hosted a 2015 exhibition on Jones, “[t]he extraordinary beauty of each Charles Jones print rests in the intensity of focus on the subject and the almost portrait-like respect with which each specimen is treated.”

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929) 'Iris Kaempferi' c. 1894

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929)
Iris Kaempferi
c. 1894
From Some Japanese Flowers
Chromo-collotype
Hand-coloured photograph
Photo copyright Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929) 'Japanese Lilies' c. 1894

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929)
Japanese Lilies
c. 1894
From Some Japanese Flowers
Chromo-collotype
Hand-coloured photograph
Photo copyright Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

 

Ogawa Kazumasa lived from the 1860s to almost the 1930s, surely one of the most fascinating 70-year stretches in Japanese history. Ogawa’s homeland “opened” to the world when he was a boy, and for the rest of his life he bore witness to the sometimes beautiful, sometimes strange, sometimes exhilarating results of a once-isolated culture assimilating seemingly everything foreign – art, technology, customs – all at once. Naturally he picked up a camera to document it all, and history now remembers him as a pioneer of his art. During the 1890s he published Some Japanese Flowers, a book containing his pictures of just that.

The following year, Ogawa’s hand-coloured photographs of Japanese flowers also appeared in the American books Japan, Described and Illustrated by the Japanese, edited by the renowned Anglo-Irish expatriate Japanese culture scholar Francis Brinkley and published in Boston, the city where Ogawa had spent a couple of years studying portrait photography and processing.

Ogawa’s varied life in Japan included working as an editor at Shashin Shinpō (写真新報), the only photography journal in the country at the time, as well as at the flower magazine Kokka (国華), which would certainly have given him the experience he needed to produce photographic specimens such as these. Though Ogawa invested a great deal in learning and employing the highest photographic technologies, they were the highest photographic technologies of the 1890s, when colour photography necessitated adding colours – of particular importance in the case of flowers – after the fact.

… Even as everything changed so rapidly all around him, as he mastered the just-as-rapidly developing tools of his craft, Ogawa nevertheless kept his eye for the natural and cultural aspects of his homeland that seemed never to have changed at all.

Colin Marshall. “Beautiful Hand-Colored Japanese Flowers Created by the Pioneering Photographer Ogawa Kazumasa (1896),” on the Open Culture website March 22nd, 2019 [Online] Cited 24/12/2020.

 

The stunning floral images … are the work of Ogawa Kazumasa, a Japanese photographer, printer, and publisher known for his pioneering work in photomechanical printing and photography in the Meiji era. Studying photography from the age of fifteen, Ogawa moved to Tokyo aged twenty to further his study and develop his English skills which he believed necessary to deepen his technical knowledge. After opening his own photography studio and working as an English interpreter for the Yokohama Police Department, Ogawa decided to travel to the United States to learn first hand the advance photographic techniques of the time. Having little money, Ogawa managed to get hired as a sailor on the USS Swatara and six months later landed in Washington. For the next two years, in Boston and Philadelphia, Ogawa studied printing techniques including the complicated collotype process with which he’d make his name on returning to Japan.

In 1884, Ogawa opened a photographic studio in Tokyo and in 1888 established a dry plate manufacturing company, and the following year, Japan’s first collotype business, the “K. Ogawa printing factory”. He also worked as an editor for various photography magazines, which he printed using the collotype printing process, and was a founding member of the Japan Photographic Society.

Anonymous. “Ogawa Kazumasa’s Hand-Coloured Photographs of Flowers (1896),” on The Public Domain Review website [Online] Cited 24/12/2020.

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929) 'Chrysanthemum' c. 1894

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929)
Chrysanthemum
c. 1894
From Some Japanese Flowers
Chromo-collotype
Hand-coloured photograph
Photo copyright Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929) 'Morning Glory' c. 1894

 

Ogawa Kazumasa (Japanese, 1860-1929)
Morning Glory
c. 1894
From Some Japanese Flowers
Chromo-collotype
Hand-coloured photograph
Photo copyright Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

 

A central focus for the show and a truly rare opportunity for visitors will be a display of 11 works by the inventor and pioneer, Kazumasa Ogawa, whose effectively coloured photographs were created 30 years before colour film was invented. Ogawa combined printmaking and traditions in Japan to create truly original and pioneering photographs. By developing up to 16 different colour plates per image from expertly hand coloured prints he made Japan the world’s leading producer of coloured photographs, the display of which is hoped to be a revelation for many.

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Agave Design I' 1920s

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Agave Design I
1920s
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Steichen. 'Magnolia Blossoms, Voulangis, France' c. 1921

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Magnolia Blossoms, Voulangis, France
c. 1921
Gelatin silver print
19.4 x 23.8cm

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'Foxgloves, France' 1925

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Foxgloves, France
1925
Gelatin silver print

 

Karl Blossfeldt. 'Adiantum pedatum. Maidenhair Fern' before 1926

 

Karl Blossfeldt (German, 1865-1932)
Adiantum pedatum. Maidenhair Fern
before 1926
Private Collection, Derbyshire

 

Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) 'Impatiens Glandulifera' 1928

 

Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932)
Impatiens Glandulifera
1928
Gelatin silver print
27 x 20.5cm

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Two Callas' 1929

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Two Callas
1929
Gelatin silver print

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958) 'Pepper No. 30' 1930

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Pepper No. 30
1930
Gelatin silver print contact print
24.1 × 19.2cm

 

 

A year later, during a four-day period from August 2-6, 1930, Weston took at least thirty more negatives of peppers. He first tried again with plain muslin or a piece of white cardboard as the backdrop, but for these images he thought the contrast between the backdrop and the pepper was too stark. On August 3 he found a large tin funnel, and, placing it on its side, he set a pepper just inside the large open end. He wrote:

It was a bright idea, a perfect relief for the pepper and adding reflecting light to important contours. I still had the pepper which caused me a week’s work, I had decided I could go no further with it, yet something kept me from taking it to the kitchen, the end of all good peppers. I placed it in the funnel, focused with the Zeiss, and knowing just the viewpoint, recognizing a perfect light, made an exposure of six minutes, with but a few moments’ preliminary work, the real preliminary was on in hours passed. I have a great negative, – by far the best!

It is a classic, completely satisfying, – a pepper – but more than a pepper; abstract, in that it is completely outside subject matter. It has no psychological attributes, no human emotions are aroused: this new pepper takes one beyond the world we know in the conscious mind.

To be sure, much of my work has this quality… but this one, and in fact all of the new ones, take one into an inner reality, – the absolute, – with a clear understanding, a mystic revealment. This is the “significant presentation” that I mean, the presentation through one’s intuitive self, seeing “through one’s eyes, not with them”: the visionary.”

By placing the pepper in the opening of the funnel, Weston was able to light it in a way that portrays the pepper in three dimensions, rather than as a flat image. It is this light that gives the image much of its extraordinary quality.

Edward Weston (1961). Nancy Newhall (ed.,). The Day-books of Edward Weston, Volume II. NY: Horizon Press. p. 180 quote on the Wikipedia website.

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973) 'Delphiniums' 1940

 

Edward Steichen (American, 1879-1973)
Delphiniums
1940
Dye imbibition print
Digital image courtesy of the George Eastman Museum
© 2019 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Gyula Holics (Hungarian, 1919-1989) 'Peas' 1950s

 

Gyula Holics (Hungarian, 1919-1989)
Peas
1950s
Gelatin silver print
23.8 x 18.1cm

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946 - 1989) 'Tulip' 1984

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Tulip
1984
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Orchid' 1985

 

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Orchid
1985
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
Used by permission

 

 

Trace the history of photography from the 1840s to present day, as seen through depictions of nature. In Summer 2020, we present our first major photography exhibition, tracing the rich history of the medium told through depictions of nature, bringing together over 100 works by 25 leading international photographers.

This autumn, Dulwich Picture Gallery will present the first exhibition to trace the history of photography as told through depictions of nature, revealing how the subject led to key advancements in the medium, from its very beginnings in 1840 to present day. Unearthed: Photography’s Roots will be the first major photography show at Dulwich Picture Gallery, bringing together over 100 works by 35 leading international photographers, many never seen before.

Presenting just one of the many possible histories of photography, this exhibition follows the lasting legacy of the great pioneers who made some of the world’s first photographs of nature, examining key moments in the medium’s history and the influences of sociological change, artistic movements and technological developments, including Pictorialism through to Modernism, experiments with colour and contemporary photography and new technologies.

Arranged chronologically and with a focus on botany and science throughout, the exhibition will highlight the innovations of some of the medium’s key figures, including William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) and Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) as well as several overlooked photographers including Japanese artist, Kazumasa Ogawa (1860-1929) and the English gardener, Charles Jones (1866-1959). It will be the first show to publicly exhibit work by Jones, whose striking modernist photographs of plants remained unknown until 20 years after his death, when they were discovered in a trunk at Bermondsey Market in 1981.

Questioning the true age of photography, the exhibition will open with some of the first known Victorian images by William Henry Fox Talbot, positioning his experimentation with paper negatives as the very beginning of photography. It will also introduce a key selection of cyanotypes by one of the first women photographers, Anna Atkins (1799- 1871), who created camera-less photograms of the algae specimens found along the south coast of England. Displayed publicly for the first time, these works highlight the ground-breaking accuracy of Atkins’ approach, and the remarkably contemporary appearance of her work which has inspired many artists and designers.

The exhibition will also foreground the artists who produced unprecedented photographic art in the twentieth century without artistic intention. The medium allowed for quick documentation of nature’s infinite specimens, making it an important tool for scientists and botanists such as the German photographer and teacher Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) who captured close-up views of plant specimens in order to study and share an understanding of nature’s ‘architecture’. A selection of Blossfeldt’s ‘study aids’ will be displayed alongside work by the proud gardener Charles Jones, who used a glass plate camera to keep a meticulously illustrated record of his finest crops. Seen together for the first time, the two artists will be examined for their pragmatic approach that set them apart from the romanticised style of their time.

A central focus for the show and a truly rare opportunity for visitors will be a display of 11 works by the inventor and pioneer, Kazumasa Ogawa, whose effectively coloured photographs were created 30 years before colour film was invented. Ogawa combined printmaking and traditions in Japan to create truly original and pioneering photographs. By developing up to 16 different colour plates per image from expertly hand coloured prints, he made Japan the world’s leading producer of coloured photographs, the display of which is hoped to be a revelation for many.

Unearthed: Photography’s Roots will aim to highlight how nature photography has remained consistently radical, inventive and influential over the past two centuries with the final rooms in the exhibition dedicated to more recent advancements in the medium. A selection of work by the renowned symbolist photographers Imogen Cunningham and Robert Mapplethorpe will highlight the coded language of nature in photography. Both artists used nature to tackle the oppression experienced in their lives by channelling the strength and the sexuality of the natural subjects they photographed. This powerful symbolism, in works such as Mapplethorpe’s Tulips (1984) and Cunningham’s Agave Design I (1920s), allowed both artists to express themselves at a time when homosexuality was criminalised and women artists fought for recognition.

The final room culminates with contemporary works that reveal the enduring influence of early forms of photography and still life, with a spotlight on the artists today who are re-shaping the definition of these mediums through digital processes. Mat Collishaw’s (b.1966) Auto-Immolation (2010) combines new technology and ancient religious ideals, whilst Richard Learoyd’s (b.1966) camera-obscura photographs present a new dimension in the traditional still life genre pioneered by the artists of the Dutch Golden Age. The Gallery’s Mausoleum will host On Reflection (2014), by renowned Israeli video artist, Ori Gersht (b.1967), displayed publicly for the first time in the UK. An homage to the work of Flemish still-life painter Jan Brueghel the Elder, this ambitious work uses modern technolgy to capture the dynamic explosion of mirrored glass reflecting meticulously detailed floral arrangements by the Old Master. Brueghel’s Still Life A Stoneware Vase of Flowers, 1607-08, will also be included in the exhibition, on loan from St John’s College, Oxford for the first time in 300 years.

Unearthed: Photography’s Roots is curated by Alexander Moore, Creative Producer at Dulwich Picture Gallery, and former Head of Exhibitions for Mario Testino. He said:

“I am thrilled to present this extensive survey of photography which celebrates botany in its various guises – from Robert Mapplethorpe’s beautifully shot tulips, to Anna Atkins’ algae specimens. There is beauty to be found in all of the works in the exhibition, which includes some new discoveries. More than anything though, this exhibition reveals nature as the gift that keeps on giving – a conduit for the development of photography, it is also a force for hope and well-being that we have come to depend on so much in recent months. I hope the energy of this timely exhibition provides visitors with a new perspective on the power of the natural world – and perhaps the encouragement to take some pictures themselves!”

The exhibition will include a number of major loans from public and private collections, many never displayed publicly before. Lenders include The Horniman Museum, the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, Michael Hoppen Gallery and Blain Southern. A catalogue will accompany featuring essays by Alexander Moore and art historian and 17th-century still life painting specialist, Dr Fred Meijer.

Press release from the Dulwich Picture Gallery

 

Mat Collishaw (English, b. 1966) 'Auto Immolation 002' 2010 (still)

 

Mat Collishaw (English, b. 1966)
Auto Immolation 002 (still)
2010
Hard Drive, LCD Screen, Steel, Surveillance Mirror, Wood
300 x 113.5 x 52cm

 

Lorenzo Vitturi (Italian, b. 1980) 'Yellow and Red Bokkom Mix #2' 2013

 

Lorenzo Vitturi (Italian, b. 1980)
Yellow and Red Bokkom Mix #2
2013
Giclee print on Hahnemuhle bamboo paper
29.5 x 44cm
Edition of 7
© Lorenzo Vitturi
Courtesy of Flowers Gallery

 

Ori Gersht (Israeli, b. 1967) 'On Reflection' 2014

 

Ori Gersht (Israeli, b. 1967)
On Reflection
2014
© the Artist

 

 

Ori Gersht explores the binary oppositions of attraction and repulsion by capturing the moment when “destruction in the exploding mirrors becomes… the moment of creation.”

In the adjacent exhibition rooms, viewers are faced with ten enlarged video stills from the film presented as archival pigment prints. The images somewhat reverse the symbolic value of still-life paintings, or the idea that they are meant to immortalise the experience of nature. Frozen in time, images of the explosion also plays on the notion of memento mori and the transient nature of life. Thanatotic [the name chosen by Freud to represent a universal death instinct] undertones are also seen in the fine network of cracks in the mirrors, which are especially noticeable in On Reflection, Material E01 and On Reflection, Material B02 (both 2014). Gersht’s works provide a glimpse into the terrain of the unseen, or what German philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin coined the “optical unconsciousness.” The outcome is a powerful reminder of the fragility of existence.

Crystal Tong. “On Reflection: Ori Gersht,” on the ArtAsiaPacific website [Online] Cited 24/12/2020.

 

Ori Gersht (Israeli, b. 1967) 'On Reflection' 2014 (detail)

 

Ori Gersht (Israeli, b. 1967)
On Reflection (detail)
2014
© the Artist

 

Ori Gersht (Israeli, b. 1967) 'On Reflection' 2014 (detail)

 

Ori Gersht (Israeli, b. 1967)
On Reflection (detail)
2014
© the Artist

 

Richard Learoyd (British, b. 1966) 'Large Poppies' 2019

 

Richard Learoyd (British, b. 1966)
Large Poppies
2019
© the Artist
Image courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

 

 

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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

 

 

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

 

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 8.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

 

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” ?

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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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.

 

 

“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.”

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

 

 

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.

 

Larry Sultan. 'Portrait of My Father with Newspaper' 1988

 

Larry Sultan (American, 1946-2009)
Portrait of My Father with Newspaper
1988
Chromogenic print
Image: 28 5/8 x 34 5/8 in. (72.7 x 87.9cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Nan Tucker McEvoy
© 1988, Larry Sultan

 

 

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.

 

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

 

Eugene Richards (American, b. 1944)
First Communion (Dorchester, Mass.)
1976
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 x 12 in. (20.3 x 30.5cm)
Sheet: 11 x 14 in. (27.9 x 35.6cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts
© 1974, Eugene Richards

 

Mark Cohen. 'Girl Holding Popsicle' 1972, printed 1983

 

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

 

 

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.

 

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

 

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

 

Mathew B. Brady. 'Reviewing Stand in Front of the Executive Mansion, Washington, D.C., May, 1865' 1865, printed early 1880s

 

Mathew B. Brady (American, 1823-1896)
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 22.9cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Julia D. Strong Endowment

 

Kevin Bubriski. 'World Trade Center Series, New York City' 2001

 

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

 

 

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.

 

Deborah Luster. '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

 

Deborah Luster (American, b. 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 139.7cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment
© 2010, Deborah Luster

 

 

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.

 

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

 

Unidentified artist
[Two Workmen Polishing a Stove]
c. 1865
Albumen silver print
Sheet and image: 14 1/8 x 11 in. (35.9 x 28cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase from the Charles Isaacs Collection made possible in part by the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment

 

Anthony Barboza. '"Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, boxer' 1981

 

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

 

Edward S. Curtis. 'Girl and Jar - San Ildefonso' 1905

 

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

 

 

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 artefacts 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.

 

Oliver H. Willard. 'Portrait of a Young Woman' c. 1857

 

Oliver H. Willard (American, active 1850s-70s, died 1875)
Portrait of a Young Woman
c. 1857
Salted paper print
8 7/8 x 6 3/4 in. (22.5 x 17.1cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase through the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, 1999.29.1

 

 

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 endeavour. In the nineteenth century photographers pictured wilderness landscapes that symbolised American greatness. More recently, photographers have described a landscape no less romantic, but now recalibrated to account for the interaction of nature and culture.

 

Eadweard Muybridge. 'Valley of the Yosemite from Union Point' 1872

 

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

 

 

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.

 

Robert Frank. 'Butte, Montana' 1956, printed 1973

 

Robert Frank (Swiss, 1924-2019)
Butte, Montana
1956, printed 1973
Gelatin silver print
Image: 8 3/4 x 13 in. (22.2 x 33cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase

 

Robert Adams. 'New Housing, Longmont, Colorado' 1973

 

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

 

 

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.

 

Charles L. Weed. 'Mirror Lake and Reflections, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, California' 1865

 

Charles L. Weed (American, 1824-1903)
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 51.4cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Charles T. Isaacs

 

 

Like Carleton Watkins, his better-known competitor, Charles Weed recognised 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.

 

Ansel Adams. 'Monolith: The Face of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley' 1926-1927, printed 1927

 

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984)
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 25.1cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase
© 2013 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

 

 

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 emphasise 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.

 

John Pfahl. 'Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York' 1989

 

John Pfahl (American, 1939-2020)
Goodyear #5, Niagara Falls, New York
1989
Chromogenic print
Sheet: 20 x 24 in. (50.8 x 61.0cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of the Consolidated Natural Gas Company Foundation, 1991.27.3, © 1989, John Pfahl

 

 

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 colour palette as light filters through clouds of billowing steam. The landscape is reduced to an abstract composition that celebrates colour 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.

 

 

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 mesmerised 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 organised 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 symbolised American greatness. “America Inhabited” traces the nation’s rapid industrialisation and urbanisation 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 organised by Merry Foresta, guest curator and independent consultant for the arts. She was the museum’s curator of photography from 1983 to 1999.

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

 

 

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.

 

Helen Levitt. 'New York' c. 1942, printed later

 

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

 

 

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 neighbourhoods.

 

Louis Faurer. 'Broadway, New York, N.Y.' 1949-1950, printed 1980-1981

 

Louis Faurer (American, 1916-2001)
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 32cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of David L. Davies and John D. Weeden and museum purchase
© Estate of Louis Faurer

 

Danny Lyon. 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville' 1966, printed 1985

 

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

 

William Eggleston. 'Tricycle (Memphis)' about 1975, printed 1980

 

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

 

 

An ordinary tricycle is made monumental in this playful colour 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 neighbourhoods 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 colour 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 colour.

 

Tina Barney. 'Marina's Room' 1987

 

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

 

Aaron Siskind. 'Untitled' 1937, printed later

 

Aaron Siskind (American, 1903-1991)
Untitled
1937, printed later
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 10 x 14 in. (25.4 x 35.5cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Tennyson and Fern Schad, courtesy of Light Gallery
© 1940, Aaron Siskind

 

 

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.

 

Walker Evans. 'Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead' 1936, printed 1974

 

Walker Evans (American, 1903-1975)
Kitchen Wall, Alabama Farmstead
1936, printed 1974
Gelatin silver print
Sheet and image: 9 3/8 x 12 in. (23.9 x 30.5cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Gift of Lee and Maria Friedlander

 

 

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.

 

Judy Fiskin. 'Long Beach Pike (broken fence)', from the 'Long Beach, California Documentary Survey Project' 1980

 

Judy Fiskin (American, b. 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 6.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts
© 1980, Judy Fiskin

 

 

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.

 

Berenice Abbott. 'Brooklyn Bridge, Water and Dock Streets, Brooklyn' 1936

 

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

 

 

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.

 

Robert Disraeli. 'Cold Day on Cherry Street' 1932

 

Robert Disraeli (American, 1905-1987)
Cold Day on Cherry Street
1932
Gelatin silver print
Image and sheet: 14 x 11 in. (35.5 x 28cm)
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
© 1932, Robert Disraeli

 

 

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.

 

Sonya Noskowiak. 'Calla Lily' c. 1930s

 

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

 

Ray K. Metzker. 'Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)' 1966

 

Ray K. Metzker (American, 1931-2014)
Composites: Philadelphia (Car and Street Lamp)
1966
Gelatin silver prints
Image: 25 3/8 x 17 3/4 in. (64.5 x 45cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase
© 1966, Ray K. Metzker

 

 

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.”

 

Irving Penn. 'Mud Glove - New York' 1975, printed 1976

 

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

 

 

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.

 

Edward Weston. 'Pepper no. 30' 1930

 

Edward Weston (American, 1886-1958)
Pepper no. 30
1930
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (24.3 x 19.2cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase

 

Imogen Cunningham. 'Auragia' 1953, printed c. 1960s

 

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

 

Ellen Carey. 'Dings and Shadows' 2012

 

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

 

 

Ellen Carey created the series she calls Dings and Shadows by exposing photosensitive paper to light projected through primary and complementary colour filters. The artist first folds and crushes paper; then after exposing the paper to light from a colour 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.

 

 

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.

 

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

 

Albert Sands Southworth (American, 1811-1894) and Josiah Johnson Hawes (American, 1808-1901)
A Bride and Her Bridesmaids
1851
Daguerreotype
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Museum purchase made possible by Walter Beck

 

 

1853

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

 

Unidentified artist. 'Mother and Son' c. 1855

 

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

 

 

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.

 

Julian Vannerson. 'Shining Metal' 1858

 

Julian Vannerson (American, 1827-1875)
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

 

 

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.

 

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

 

Egbert Guy Fowx (American, 1821-1889)
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

 

 

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.

.

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

 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan  (American, born Ireland, 1840-1882)
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

 

 

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.

 

Andrew Joseph Russell. 'Sphinx of the Valley' 1869

 

Andrew Joseph Russell (American, 1829-1902)
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

 

 

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.

 

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

 

Brett Weston (American, 1911-1993)
Untitled (Snow Covered Mountains)
1973
Gelatin silver print
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Transfer from the National Endowment for the Arts
© 1973, Brett Weston

 

 

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.

 

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

 

Frank Gohlke (American, b. 1942)
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
© 1973, Frank Gohlke

 

 

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

Opening hours:
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Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Dogs, chickens, cattle’ 1994-95

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