Since its invention in the first half of the nineteenth century, photography has been used for documentary purposes, faithfully recording the details of archaeological artifacts, works of art, and natural specimens. Appearing to be no more than bearers of information or certificates of authenticity, many such photographs are not as simple as they might seem at first glance. The exhibition Material Witnesses: Photographs of Things considers how documentary images, while retaining a certain visual truth, are also highly mysterious works of art. Material Witnesses is on view at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
January 15 through April 11.
Drawn from the collections of the Clark and the Troob Family Foundation, this seventeen piece exhibition features photographs by William Henry Fox Talbot, Roger Fenton, Eugène Atget, Henri Jean-Louis Le Secq, Charles Thurston Thompson, Linnaeus Tripe, Edwin Hale Lincoln, and Adolphe Terris. Lingering traces of these photographersa reflection in a mirror, handwritten inventory numbers, the artificial arrangement of the objects themselvesdraw attention to activities that took place outside the picture frame, unseen by the camera. The viewer is left to interpret this forensic evidence, to make sense of each pictures particular account of the past and the real. These photographs are material witnesses in the transformation of mundane objectsstones, flowers, chinainto significant subjectsmementos, symbols, art.
The Clarks collection of photographs dates from the invention of photography to the early twentieth century and now comprises nearly 1,000 works. The collection includes important photographs by Gustave Le Gray, Édouard Baldus, Nadar, Eugène Atget, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, William Henry Fox Talbot, Julia Margaret Cameron, Francis Frith, Roger Fenton, Carleton Watkins, William Bradford, Winslow Homer, and Alfred Stieglitz.