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New Exhibition at Getty Center Showcases Pivotal Photographic Works
Camille Silvy (French, 1834-1910, active Paris, France and London, England), River Scene, France, Negative 1858, Print 1860s. Albumen silver print. Image: 25.7 X 35.6 cm. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES.- In Focus: The Landscape, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, August 26, 2008–January 11, 2009, offers an overview of the history of landscape photography from the dawn of the medium to the 20th century. Drawn exclusively from the Getty Museum’s collection, the exhibition brings together the work of more than 25 innovative photographers, all of whom have left their distinctive mark on the history of the genre, including Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820–1884), Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864–1946), and Robert Adams (American, born 1937).

“The photographs in this exhibition were selected from hundreds of extraordinary landscape works in the Getty Museum’s collection and represent key moments in the genre’s rich history,” says Brett Abbott, who curated the exhibition.

The presentation showcases pivotal photographic works by 19th century artists William Henry Jackson (American, 1843–1942), Camille Silvy (French, 1834–1910), and Roger Fenton (British, 1819–1869), alongside those by 20th and 21st century masters such as Eugène Atget (French, 1857–1927), Dorothea Lange (American, 1895–1965), Ansel Adams (American, 1902–1984), Harry Callahan (American, 1912–1999), and André Kertész (American, born Hungary, 1894–1985). With over 150 years separating the earliest and latest photographs, the exhibition is organized chronologically to make important aesthetic and technological developments apparent.

Since the invention of the medium, photographers have turned to the landscape as a source of inspiration. Changing artistic movements and continual technical advancements have provided opportunities for camera artists to approach the subject in diverse and imaginative ways. Some were not content with a purely photographic rendering of nature. André Giroux (French, 1801–1879), an accomplished artist, scratched and drew on his negatives to heighten painterly effects and soften his camera’s recording. Exploration and discovery were the driving forces behind the work of photographers such as Timothy O’Sullivan (American, about 1840–1882), who honed his skills during the American Civil War, and William Henry Jackson (American, 1843–1942), whose pictures, combined with extensive reports from a government-sponsored expedition to Yellowstone Valley, moved Congress to designate the area a national park in 1872.

During the first decades of the 20th century, artistic experimentation flourished and tested the boundaries of the genre. Photographers such as Stieglitz and Edward Weston (American, 1886–1958) sought to explore the landscape as abstraction and pure form. Other photographers, such as Lange and Eliot Porter (American, 1901–1990) dedicated their craft towards social ends. Lange spent several years documenting Depression-era conditions, while Porter devoted himself to publishing work in concert with conservation efforts.

These influences informed much of the work created in the second half of the 20th century as photographers began to explore the landscape in more socially conscious ways than ever before. Virginia Beahan (American, born 1946) and Laura McPhee (American, born 1958) together have delved into the landscape as a site of human history as much as a subject of aesthetic contemplation. Contemporary artists continue to be inspired by the rich tradition of landscape photography.

In Focus: The Landscape is organized by Brett Abbott, Associate Curator in the Department of Photographs.

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