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Exhibition explores the photographer/printer collaboration
David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (Buffalo), 1988–89, printed 1992. Gelatin silver print. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Schneider/Erdman Printer's Proof Collection, partial gift, and partial purchase through the Margaret Fisher Fund, 2016.143. © The Estate of David Wojnarowicz. Image © President and Fellows of Harvard College.


CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- Analog Culture: Printer’s Proofs from the Schneider/Erdman Photography Lab, 1981–2001 is now on display at the Harvard Art Museums, running through August 12, 2018. The exhibition takes an unprecedented look at the dynamic collaboration between photographer and printer, through the lens of the museums’ recently acquired Schneider/Erdman Printer’s Proof Collection, a remarkable group of nearly 450 photographs printed over three decades by Gary Schneider in his Manhattan-based photography lab.

As co-owners of Schneider/Erdman, Inc., Schneider and his partner, John Erdman, adopted the practice of retaining a “printer’s proof”: a print given to them by the artists with whom they worked, often in partial exchange for their services. These prints grew to form an extraordinary collection of photographs taken by the artists, photojournalists, and fashion photographers at the center of New York’s cultural milieu in the 1980s, ’90s, and early 2000s. Living and working in the East Village, a hub of artistic experimentation and activism, Schneider and Erdman built this collection during a momentous 20-year period that saw the onset of the AIDS crisis, its devastating impact on the art world, and the politics of resistance that emerged in response; the culture wars of the 1980s and ’90s; and the transformation of New York between 1980 and 2001, including the effects that September 11 had on the economy and urban landscape. The printer’s proofs bear witness to these histories—and to the role of photography in recording and interpreting our world.

A cross-section of the Schneider/Erdman Printer’s Proof Collection is on public display for the first time—approximately 90 printer’s proofs as well as related archival material and artist’s tools—including visually stunning works by Richard Avedon, James Casebere, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Louis Faurer, Eric Fischl, Robert Gober, Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar, Gilles Peress, John Schabel, Lorna Simpson, and David Wojnarowicz, among others. In particular, Schneider’s close collaborations with Gober, Goldin, and Hujar are examined.

The exhibition also includes publications for which Schneider served as printer, such as Madonna’s controversial book of Steven Meisel’s photographs, Sex (1992), and Schneider’s meticulous reproduction of Czech modernist photographs from the 1920s and ’30s by František Drtikol, Jaromír Funke, Jaroslav Rössler, Hugo Táborský, and Eugen Wiškovský for a portfolio conceived and published in 1994 by curator Jaroslav Anděl.

Archival objects and artist’s tools included in the final gallery demonstrate the collection’s indispensable value for teaching about the materials and methods of photographic printing. A grouping of highlight and contrast masks, a Light Valve Technology negative, and a gelatin silver test print related to a 2008 project for Robert Gober shows the various tools Schneider used in his pursuit of the perfect print. Viewed side by side, four prints on different papers from one negative of Gilles Peress’s Halloween, Minneapolis (1985) demonstrate the nuances and subtleties attainable in black and white photography. A large case along one wall uses a selection of printer’s proofs to explain various terms and processes in analog printmaking—the negative, paper choice, developing, and toning—and also shows more recent examples of pigmented ink prints of works by Peter Hujar to shed light on Schneider’s transition to digital processes.

A print publication and a complementary digital resource have been published in conjunction with the exhibition. Both of these publications highlight and share the research prepared for the exhibition and will foster future scholarship on this extraordinary printer’s proof collection.

The book, focused on the work and practice of Schneider/Erdman, Inc., provides an unparalleled behind-the-scenes view of New York’s art community in the late 20th century. It includes essays by curator Jennifer Quick; Robin Kelsey, Dean of Arts and Humanities and the Shirley Carter Burden Professor of Photography in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University; and Jessica Williams, a Ph.D. candidate in the history of art and architecture at Harvard University and former Agnes Mongan Curatorial Intern at the Harvard Art Museums. In addition, it features an oral histories section, with reflections by Schneider and Erdman on printing works by Peter Hujar and David Wojnarowicz, and excerpts of interviews with Schneider and with a selection of his clients and collaborators. Hardcover, $50. Published by Harvard Art Museums; distributed by Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

The online Special Collection serves as a digital repository for the entire Schneider/Erdman Printer’s Proof Collection and related archives. It includes an overview of the collection and history of Schneider/Erdman, in-depth studies of the range of techniques and processes that Schneider deployed for each photograph, and audiovisual content (for example, video interviews and archival footage of Schneider at work). Conceived and designed by Ph.D. candidate Jessica Williams, this digital resource provides continued accessibility to the printer’s proof collection for both the general public and scholars, ensuring the collection’s legacy as an important archive for the appreciation and study of 20th-century photography.

“The Analog Culture exhibition, publication, and related online resource explore the history and the making of this extraordinary group of photographs, which Gary and John have always considered to be a teaching collection,” said Jennifer Quick, curator of Analog Culture and the John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Associate Research Curator in Photography at the Harvard Art Museums. “Each of these photographs tells multiple stories—of Gary and John’s work, of the artist who originally captured the image, and of how the photograph bears witness to important issues and questions of the moment. The collection is a rich resource that will be actively studied in the years to come.”

In a statement that appears at the beginning of the exhibition as well as in the accompanying publication, Schneider summarizes his approach to photographic printing: “In all my years as a printer, my job has been to honor the intention of the artist. It is to suspend any intervention on my part that would interrupt that intention, even if it means that I do not make the print more beautiful, or more technically elegant, or any other attribute that I might insert as my value. With all of the artists I print for, it is my job to locate their intention in order to realize it in the final print. This is my talent as a printer.”

The Schneider/Erdman Printer’s Proof Collection was acquired by the Harvard Art Museums in two parts, in 2011 and 2016, as a combined gift and purchase through the support of the Margaret Fisher Fund. In addition, Schneider and Erdman gifted a collection of archival material, including photographs, test prints, glass plate negatives, vintage material, and studio records, as well as photographs from their personal art collection, in 2017. Altogether, these acquisitions have reinforced the museums’ place as a primary site for the study, research, exhibition, and interpretation of contemporary photography. Learn more about the acquisition, Schneider and Erdman, and the history of the Harvard Art Museums holdings of photographs in a 2017.

“The relationship between photographer and printer, like any collaboration that requires two artists to share time, ideas, and materials, is necessarily built on trust,” said Martha Tedeschi, the Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director of the Harvard Art Museums. “Over the span of his illustrious career as a photographic printer, Gary Schneider established himself as a master craftsman, earning the trust of artists who handed over their source material to Schneider and divulged their hopes for the print in full confidence that he would enact that vision with sensitivity and technical expertise.”

Tedeschi added: “Schneider and his partner, John Erdman, have in turn entrusted the Harvard Art Museums with the preservation, exhibition, and study of 445 photographs. These printer’s proofs, together with Schneider and Erdman’s additional gifts of archival and technical material from their lab, have truly transformed the museums’ photography holdings.”

Related Installation – A.K. Burns: Survivor’s Remorse
A newly commissioned video installation in the museums’ Lightbox Gallery (Level 5), A.K. Burns: Survivor’s Remorse, is in part a response to the life and art of David Wojnarowicz, one of the artists featured in the Analog Culture exhibition. The installation is also on view through August 12, 2018. Burns (American, b. 1975) is a New York-based interdisciplinary artist whose work explores the body as a contentious domain wherein sociopolitical conditions are negotiated. To read the artist’s description of the project, see http://bit.ly/2r0INtR.





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