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International exhibition explores impact of photography on Post-Impressionist painters
Henri Evenepoel, Self portrait in three-way mirror, 1898. Modern gelatin silver print, 2011, from original negative, 1 1/2 x 2 in. Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels, Archives of Contemporary Art in Belgium.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN.- — An exhibition exploring the influence of the handheld Kodak camera on artists of the Post-Impressionist era will open at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on June 8, 2012. Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard examines how the photographs of seven European artists relate to the paintings and prints for which they are best known. These artists did not consider photographs their official work and never exhibited them during their lifetimes. Featuring more than 200 photographs and 60 paintings, drawings and prints, the exhibition includes work by the painters Pierre Bonnard, George Breitner, Maurice Denis, Henri Evenepoel, Félix Vallotton, and Edouard Vuillard as well as French printmaker Henri Rivière. Snapshot will be on view in the Allen Whitehill Clowes Gallery June 8, 2012, through September 2, 2012.

The invention in 1888 of the first handheld, easy-to-use camera expanded the practice beyond the professional photographer to the amateur, who could now abandon the tripods and long exposure times that characterized earlier photography. Painters were not immune to the allure of the Kodak, which made the “l’instantané photographique”, or spontaneous snapshot, possible. The artists who eagerly took up this new device turned their cameras to a wide variety of subjects, from informal images of family, friends and vacations to views of modern urban life to more posed portraits and nude figural studies.

“These rarely seen photographs can be analyzed for their intriguing links to the artists’ work in other media or simply savored for their revealing glimpses of turn-of-the-century European life,” said Ellen W. Lee, The Wood-Pulliam Senior Curator at the IMA.

Working with the first handheld cameras, photographers in the late 19th-century had literally a different outlook from today’s picture makers. Viewfinders for the early cameras were on top of the apparatus, forcing the photographer to hold the camera at waist-level perspective. Several models of the early cameras are featured in the exhibition.

The artists experimented freely with the camera, achieving effects that they often transferred to paintings and prints. On some occasions they used their snapshots as preparatory studies, but usually the relationship between their photography and painting is more subtle, drawing upon the novel perspectives and radical foreshortening, the contrasts of light and shadow, dramatic cropping, and powerful silhouettes captured in their photographs.

Examples found in the exhibition include:

• Bonnard snapped two series of nude photographs of his mistress, which he used as inspiration for two book illustration projects.

• Breitner’s nearly 3,000 negatives and prints of the streets of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Paris, and London convey both the bustle and isolation of modern life.

• Evenepoel photographed his family life and studio, often choosing unusual points of view. He created powerful silhouettes of his family crossing Paris’s Place de la Concorde.

• Granted exclusive access to the Eiffel Tower during its construction in 1889, Rivière produced photographs with a striking sense of modernity.

• Vuillard’s vast archive of surviving photos reveal only a few images that served as studies for specific paintings but many snapshots that capture the spatial complexity and sense of intimacy that characterize his paintings.

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