Maryland Historical Society

Baltimore, MD



Maryland in Focus: A Photographic History, 1839-2000


"Maryland in Focus: A Photographic History, 1839-2000" opens at the Maryland Historical Society (MHS) on December 15, 2000 and will run through April 15, 2001. The exhibition is one of the first to survey the evolution of American photography from its beginnings to the present in the context of one state. On December 14, 2000, the MHS will present a special members' opening from 6-8 p.m. in the Heritage Gallery. Reservations are requested.

Maryland in Focus: A Photographic History, 1839-2000 is the first major photography exhibition organized by the MHS. Drawn largely from the MHS's rich collection, this exhibition includes many original photographs that will be exhibited for the first time, including images from the collection of the former Baltimore City Life Museums. Maryland in Focus also includes important works borrowed from other institutional and private collections from across Maryland, Washington, DC, and throughout the U.S. as well as from contemporary Maryland artists.

In addition to an impressive selection of original works that illustrate the evolution of photography and photographic practice in the U.S. as it occurred in Maryland, the exhibition will also include cameras and studio equipment used to create the images. These pieces range from daguerreotype cameras of the 1840s and wet-plate cameras, late nineteenth-century amateur cameras to turn-of-the-century amateur cameras, and digital cameras and printers of the present day. Maryland in Focus highlights Maryland's important role in the history of American photography, illustrates the camera's unique power to bring the past to life, and underscores the importance of preserving Maryland's significant photographic heritage. (left: George B. Coale, Baltimore County Farm, c. 1858, salted paper print)

In the autumn of 1839, photography was introduced to America through three states, one of which was Maryland. Processes that made images by exploiting the chemical reactions caused by light were discovered in Great Britain and France in the mid-1830s, but were not made public until 1839. The first published newspaper reports describing these processes reached the U.S. in early September 1839 via the port cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. In each city, men with the necessary skills and curiosity immediately attempted to make images following the scanty directions available from the newspapers. Within a matter of days, the first. American photographs were made and the history of what has become the major visual medium for both documentation and personal expression in this country began.

Among the earliest American photographs that survive are daguerreotypes made by Henry Fitz Jr. of Baltimore, who used the process named after its French inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre. In the late autumn of 1839, Fitz, a manufacturer of precision optical instruments, made a camera that used a concave mirror rather than a conventional lens to gather and focus light, and used it to take one of the earliest photographic likenesses of a human being. The image is a tiny self-portrait, now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. A few months later, he opened the first photographic studio in Baltimore. A rare daguerreotype portrait, made by Fitz in his studio in about 1840, will be included in the exhibition. Throughout the following 160 years since, Baltimore -- and Maryland -- have been the home of a thriving, active, and creative photographic community. (left: Venus and Jeremiah Tilghman, daguerreotype, c. 1850)

Maryland in Focus explores Maryland's rich and ongoing contribution to American photography through a variety of original works that range from some of the earliest surviving American daguerreotypes to digital works created just this year. The images span the breadth of the state, from the Eastern Shore to the West Virginia border, and provide a compelling vision of the diversity of Maryland's landscape, cities, towns, and people, as well as the events that have shaped Maryland's -- and America's -- history since 1839.

Included in the exhibition will be a number of daguerreotypes, pre-Civil War views of rural Baltimore County and a copy of Alexander Gardner's "Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War," one of the most important documents of the era. Turn-of-the-century amateur photo albums and photographs by a number of outstanding Maryland artist-photographers from that era, including Emily Spencer Hayden, Howard L. Mettee, and A. Aubrey Bodine, will also be included, as well as images of the Baltimore fire of 1904. From later in the 20th century, objects to be included are an x-ray portrait of H.L. Mencken taken in 1921, photo-journalistic images from the Civil Rights Movement, and contemporary works. (left: Richard Childress, Blaze Starr on the Block, c. 1960, gelatin silver print)

Maryland in Focus is organized by guest curator William F. Stapp, a photo historian who serves as an adjunct faculty member at George Mason University, and who has been a curator of photography at venues throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Read more about the Maryland Historical Society in Resource Library Magazine

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For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/4/11

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