Silver Anniversary

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Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs celebrates the gallery's 25th anniversary with a new exhibition tracing the history of photography from its birth in the mid 1830s to the early 20th century. Silver Anniversary: 25 Photographs, 1835 to 1914 will be on view from October 14 though November 20, 2009. The exhibition is a survey of rare, iconic works that defined photography both technically and aesthetically.  The exhibition features work by William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of paper negative photography, and some of the preeminent photographers of their periods including Anna Atkins, Hippolyte Bayard, J. B. Greene, Roger Fenton, Julia Margaret Cameron, Charles Nègre, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and Alvin Langdon Coburn. A fully illustrated catalogue by photographic historians Dr. Larry J. Schaaf and Russell Lord is available.

Silver Anniversary is divided into three sections: The Period of Discovery (1835-1845), a fertile time during the Industrial Revolution when British and French inventors competed for primacy; The Golden Age (1850s-1860s), when European photographers, many trained as artists, used paper and glass negatives to explore their homes and distant lands; and The Pictorialist Movement (lasting until the Great War), which represents a group of artist-photographers who consciously broke with conventional mainstream photographic techniques of picture making.


The Period of Discovery

Silver Anniversary begins with the birth of photography in both England and France.  Ayoucha, a daguerreotype from 1843 by Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey of a veiled woman standing in the brilliant Egyptian sun depicts an alluring presence. During a three-year journey through the Middle East and into Egypt, Girault de Prangey took more than 1,000 images and created "one of the most significant and extensive early bodies of photographic work," notes Schaaf in the catalogue. This image is one of only a few within this vast archive that actually shows a human being.

William Henry Fox Talbot, the British inventor of photography on paper, created the photogenic drawing negative, Tripod in the Cloisters of Lacock Abbey, probably in 1835-36, making it one of photography's earliest images. As Schaaf writes in the catalogue, the negative "is an extraordinary record of early photographic experimentation taken within the very home of the inventor of photography."  

An exquisite print of Talbot'sThe Ladder, 1844, will also be on view.The Ladder is one of Talbot's best-known photographs, and follows in the long Dutch tradition of picturesque genre scenes in which the depiction of a daily routine is elevated to a level of noble simplicity. The Ladder is the only image from The Pencil of Nature (the first photographically illustrated book) that includes people. Lengthy exposure times in the early days of photography almost prohibited the capture of people in action, but this picture represents one of the few early successes in staging figures.

Hippolyte Bayard's direct positives are extraordinarily rare, and his image of a Bust (Possibly of Alexander the Great), circa 1839, is an extraordinary example of his work. As Lord writes in the catalogue, "With the bust emerging almost hauntingly from the spare background, this image parallels Bayard's own attempts to emerge from the shadows of Daguerre and Talbot as an independent inventor of photography."

The Golden Age

Both Auguste Salzmann and J. B. Greene used the paper negative process while traveling. Salzmann came to photography as a landscape painter and an amateur archaeologist. One of his best-known photographs is included in Silver Anniversary. His salt print, Jérusalem. Sarcophage Judaïque, 1854, is a strong abstract composition that also conveys its original archaeological intent.  J. B. Greene equally had a strong interest in archaeology, as evidenced by Obelisk at Luxor, from 1854, striking because of its formal simplicity.  

Charles Nègre took photography to another level with his salt print of a chandelier in the 1850s. "This delightfully clever image derives much of its charm from an inherent paradox in early photography," Lord writes in the catalogue. "In order for certain subjects to look real in the final photograph, they had to be faked. The flames of the chandelier were too ephemeral to be captured, so Nègre, a former painter, took the liberty of drawing them himself on the glass negative." He was so skillful that the artifice is not immediately apparent in this rich salt print.

Humphrey Lloyd Hime's coated salt print, The Prairie Looking West, 1858, depicts a human skull almost floating on an endless Canadian prairie. The austere and haunting image was taken during a topographical expedition by the fledgling Canadian government.   

The Pictorialist Movement

Silver Anniversary
includes a rare carbon print of Alfred Stieglitz's Winter--Fifth Avenue, 1893, which Edward Steichen later referred to as Stieglitz's "most exhibited, reproduced, and prize-awarded print, and was a technical achievement considered impossible." The cityscape was taken during a massive blizzard on the corner of 35th Street and Fifth Avenue, just a few blocks from where the famous 291 gallery would be located.  This print was a gift to Heinrich Kühn in Vienna.

The last work in the exhibition, Alvin Langdon Coburn's "Wings!", 1914, expresses the exhilaration of overcoming gravity. Coburn once confessed to the Cubist painter Max Weber--to whom he sent this print--that, "it is this psychological side of photography of life that interested me.  I always want to photograph the essence of things rather than their husks and shells." As Schaaf writes, "Coburn was praised by his contemporaries for his absolute mastery over printing processes and this photograph preserves all his poetry."


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