PaineWebber Art Gallery

New York, NY



A Maritime Album


Spanning the history of photography and man's evolving relationship with the sea, a new photography exhibition at the PaineWebber Art Gallery provides a rare, revealing view of American maritime culture, industry and society. The 100 vintage photographs that comprise A Maritime Album bear witness to the full spectrum of maritime experience, providing insight into our history as explorers and adventurers in this vast and unpredictable world. Chosen from one of America's most extensive collections of maritime images by the eminent photography curator John Szarkowski, A Maritime Album includes works by prominent photographers Edwin Levick and A. Aubrey Bodine, as well as by amateur photographers capturing notable moments in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Organized by The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, A Maritime Album showcases 100 black and white photographs of the fishing, sailing and whaling traditions, as well as naval encounters, shipbuilding ventures and intimate views of daily maritime life. The exhibition will be on view for the first time in New York at the PaineWebber Art Gallery in midtown Manhattan from January 18 - April 1, 2001. The show is complemented by a catalog, "A Maritime Album: 100 Photographs and Their Stories," co-published by The Mariners' Museum and Yale University Press. (left: Photographer unknown, Algonquin Canoe, 1996, gelatin P.O.P. print)

Guest curator and photographic historian John Szarkowski selected the photographs that comprise A Maritime Album from the archives of The Mariners' Museum, a renowned resource including more than 600,000 images. In his own words, Szarkowski chose "100 interesting, unknown, beautiful, quirky, informative and stylish photographs" for the show. Szarkowski is celebrated for redefining photographic art history through his role as Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art (New York) from 1962 to 1991, where he presented more than 100 photographic exhibitions. His selections for A Maritime Album, and the accompanying narratives written by Richard Benson, dean of Yale University's School of Art, explore the world within each image.

The exhibition spans a significant era in Western culture, in which photography came of age and innovations in steam power revolutionized transportation. In this intriguing period, rich with the overlapping of old and radically new technologies, many amateur and professional photographers chronicled the full spectrum of maritime experience. A Maritime Album is arranged in broad, loose categories, gathering images around themes of disaster, celebratory events, leisure activities and the daily life of sailors, among others. Included in the exhibition are the following photographs, each of which reveals a rich story of personal or cultural history.


Maritime Disasters

The 1889 photograph, Wreck of the Adler, speaks to the strength of the sea. This massive vessel has been caught by a tropical storm and brutally dropped onto a coral reef, her masts cracked and stripped of their rigging. The hull alone remains intact, a battered reminder of the potential danger that awaits all those who would voyage on water.The Bombing of the USS Alabama documents target practice as exercised on the USS Alabama in September 1921. The vessel is caught at the moment of impact, engulfed in the downward flash of an explosion that has been enhanced with phosphorous for visibility. Above this massive pyrotechnical display, the delicate bi-plane that dropped the bomb flies away to safety. (left: Photographer unknown, Bombing of the USS Alabama, 1921, gelatin silver print)


Celebratory Events

The Christening of the USS Arkansas marks the ceremonial launching of an ironclad warship that served in the United States Navy. This 1900 photograph records the daughter of the governor of Arkansas breaking a bottle of champagne against the new ship's hull, as the event guests cheer. The hope and joy of this occasion, a rare one in our more standardized century, is clearly frozen in time.

Captured in the 1887 photograph Manning the Yards, the crew of the USS Atlanta are precariously balanced on the yards of the masts to impress the queen of the Sandwich Islands walking on the dock below. The queen is a member of the royal family that ruled the territory of Hawaii in a tumultuous transitional period before it became a United States protectorate. Hidden among the masts and rigging that support the crew's display, the Atlanta has two large smokestacks, indicating the introduction of steam power to this vessel. Attempting to embrace the technologies of the Industrial Revolution without disregarding old patterns, the photograph of the Atlanta epitomizes changes in transportation and politics at the end of the 19th century, as the past palpably clashes with the future. (left: Photographer unknown, Mannning the Yards, 1887, gelatin silver print)


Leisure Activities

The 1930s were a turbulent time in American society when traditional gender roles were questioned and expectations challenged. A newfound acceptance for the changing role of women in society is evoked through Nineteen-Foot Chris-Craft Racer, a speedboat advertisement from the era. Taking the wheel of this modern racer vessel, the female driver skims over the enclosed inlet, transferring the excitement of a speeding automobile to the leisure realm of the seaside. (left: Photographer unknown, Nineteen-foot Chris-Craft Racer, 1937, gelatin silver print)

The carefree spirit of a life of leisure on the water is also seen in the 1946 A. Aubrey Bodine photograph Sea Scouts of Florence Louise. Too young to be drafted into World War II, the boys are enjoying a summer camp on the water, swimming and sailing. Although the country is overwhelmed with the violence of war at this time, this reality is nowhere to be found in the image, as the eleven boys jump into the water together, their exuberance and excitement bursting through the frame.


Daily Maritime Life

Proudly displaying his enormous catch, the fisherman in Man Holding Halibut was photographed by Edwin Levick, one of the most renowned maritime photographers of the early 20th century. The fisherman poses with the halibut, which appears to be bigger than he is, in his weather-beaten fishing trawler far off the New England coast. In a curious way, both creatures are out of their elements, as the human has gone to sea and the fish has left it. (left: Edwin Levick and Sons photographers, Man Hlding Halibut, 1930, gelatin silver print)

Clifton Guthrie's beautifully composed photograph Juan Sebastian de Elcano expresses the main activities in the life of a sailor when not at sea. The two sailors at the top of the image are engaged in observing wharf-side life, tucked neatly into a comfortable nook of the ship. One sailor at the bottom of the photograph is painting and repairing the hull, while another is dressed in uniform, prepared to explore the port in his finest clothes. The flattened structure of the photograph, which puts the four sailors and the masthead on the same plane, also binds the figures into a linear web through strands of rope and cable. Although the action of the image is quite subdued, as the sailors relax and take a much-needed break, the focal points and lines of rope create a busy and complex picture.

The calmness of the Levick and Guthrie photographs starkly contrast with the charged image of Changing Pilot of Observation Balloon. Sailors were positioned in gas observation balloons such as this to keep watch for enemy ships from their high and all-seeing station. Although the climbing sailor is nestled in a canvas sling or "bosun's chair," he is nonetheless in great danger, dangling over the stormy seas on nothing but a thin cable. This photograph profoundly captures the way life-threatening experiences can become a sailor's daily routine while at sea.


Upcoming American Art Exhibitions at the PaineWebber Art Gallery:

The Beaux Arts Alliance: Esther Bubley, American Photojournalist
A retrospective curated by Bonnie Yochelson
July 5 - September 7, 2001
The Montclair Museum: Permanent Collection
Highlights from the Museum's holdings with an emphasis on the Native
American and American Painting Collections
September 20 - November 30, 2001

A Maritime Album is sponsored by PaineWebber Incorporated.

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