NEW YORK, NY.
Celebrating the gallerys 25th anniversary, a new exhibition tracing the history of photography from its birth in the mid 1830s to the early 20th century will be on view at Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Fine Photographs
from October 14 though November 20, 2009.
Silver Anniversary: 25 Photographs, 1835 to 1914 is a survey of iconic works of extraordinary beauty and rarity by the preeminent photographers of the time who 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 greatest photographers of their periods including Anna Atkins, Hippolyte Bayard, Hill & Adamson, 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 will be 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 (1885-1914), which represents a group of artist-photographers who consciously broke with mainstream photography.
The Period of Discovery
Silver Anniversary begins with the birth of photography in both England and France. 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, made the photogenic drawing negative, Tripod in the Cloisters of Lacock Abbey, probably in 1835-36, making it one of photographys earliest images. The subject is, in fact, thought to be a theodolite, an optical instrument owned by Talbot for surveying purposes. It was probably used in the planning and construction phase of a known renovation in the cloisters in his home at Lacock Abbey. Since this project was completed by 1837, this negative was most likely produced before that. 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.
The finest known print of Talbots The Ladder, 1844, will also be on view. The Ladder is one of Talbots 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. The 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 Bayards 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 Bayards 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 employed the paper negative process while traveling. One of Salzmanns best-known photographs is included in Silver Anniversary. He came to photography as a landscape painter and an amateur archaeologist. His salt print, Jérusalem. Sarcophage Judaïque, 1854, is a strong abstract composition that also conveys its original archaeological intent. J. B. Greene also had a strong interest in archaeology, as evidenced by his masterful image, Obelisk at Luxor, from 1854. The towering obelisk is striking because of its formal simplicity.
Charles Nègre took photography to another level with his picture 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 about the salt print. 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 Himes 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 Stieglitzs masterpiece Winter - Fifth Avenue, 1893, which Edward Steichen later referred to as Stieglitzs 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 their famous 291 gallery would be located. This print was a gift to Heinrich Kühn in Vienna.
The last work in the exhibition, Alvin Langdon Coburns The Aeroplane, 1914, expresses the exhilaration of overcoming gravity. Coburn once confessed to the Cubist painter Max Weberto whom he sent this printthat, 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.
Silver Anniversary: 25 Photographs, 1835 to 1914 will be on view at Hans P. Kraus, Jr. Fine Photographs, located at 962 Park Avenue, New York, from October 14 though November 20, 2009. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, noon to 6 p.m. and by appointment.