NEW YORK — Inaugurating the gallery’s 40th year, Hans P. Kraus Jr. Fine Photographs is pleased to present Facing the Camera III: Portraits Drawn with Light from January 26 through April 12, 2024. The exhibition is part of Master Drawings New York and displays XIXth and XXth century portraits by Fox Talbot, Hill & Adamson, Nadar, Giacomo Caneva, Charles Nègre, J. B. Greene, Lewis Carroll, B. B. Turner, Julia Margaret Cameron, Eugène Atget, and others.
“From today, painting is dead!” declared the popular French painter Paul Delaroche when he first saw photographs around 1840. Apocryphal or not, his report signals the anxiety around photography at the time of its invention. The new medium was eventually accepted by the art establishment and is now fully integrated within it, considered as “drawing with light.”
In The Pencil of Nature (1844), William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) explained his idea of “fixing the shadow” of nature. While traveling in Italy in 1833, his frustration with his inability to draw satisfactory views of the scenery around Lake Como prompted his discovery of a new kind of “drawing.” Talbot wrote that his pictures were made “without any aid whatever from the artist’s pencil” but instead by the “mere action of Light upon sensitive paper.”
Talbot's first and favorite portrait subject was his plaster cast of Patroclus, a copy of the marble bust in the British Museum. His earliest negative of Patroclus was made in 1839, the year photography was announced. Talbot’s chemistry required lengthy exposures and a stationary object; this bust was the ideal subject. The brush strokes around the border of this exceptional salt print from a calotype negative of 1842 indicate that Talbot himself, rather than an assistant, prepared the sheet of paper by hand.
Jean-Charles Deburau was asked by Nadar (1820-1910) and his brother Adrien Tournachon (1825-1903) to pose for a series of photographs of expressions and comical misadventures of the famous pantomime character Pierrot. Intended as publicity for the brothers’ struggling studio, the photographs were an enormous popular success and won the gold medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1855 in Paris. This rare gelatin-coated salt print was part of that award-winning series. Deburau’s father, the pantomime actor Jean-Gaspard—stage name Baptiste—had created the character Pierrot immortalized in Marcel Carné's 1945 film Les Enfants du Paradis.
Giacomo Caneva (1813-1865) was a Roman painter who took up photography. He was the inspiration behind, and a founder of, the Caffe Greco School of painting and photography in Rome where its members gathered at the base of the Spanish Steps. Caneva's embrace of photography, first the daguerreotype and then the negative-positive process, was a natural outgrowth of his training as a painter of perspective scenes. He was the first photographer working in nineteenth-century Rome to make genre scenes with peasants as a principal subject.
Eugène Atget (1857-1927) made his earliest pictures of prostitutes in 1921. They represent a very small segment of his oeuvre. John Szarkowski remarked that “If one visited every central casting agency on earth to fine the perfect models for a picture of three madams (or a madam and two workers) weighing business prospects, one would never find these three” portrayed in this fine matte albumen print of 1924-1925.
Gjon Mili (1904-1984) graduated from MIT with a concentration in lighting research. He specialized in stroboscopic and stop-action photographs, such as these iconic images of Picasso drawing in the air with a flashlight. Here we have the quintessential master drawing with light.
Facing the Camera III: Portraits Drawn with Light will be on view at the gallery from January 26 as part of Master Drawings New York. The exhibition continues through April 12, 2024.