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Through the Eye of the Camera: 19th and 20th Century Photography from the Royal & SunAlliance Collection

February 14 - May 2, 2004


"(Daguerreotype images) must undoubtedly be regarded as the most important, and perhaps the most extraordinary triumph of modern science. Variations in shade, and the gradations of both linear and aerial perspective are those of truth itself in the supremeness of its perfection."
Edgar Allan Poe


What better to accompany a major study of the early work of Margaret Bourke-White (see Margaret Bourke-White: The Photography of Design, 1927 - 1936) than an historic and aesthetic overview of the history of American photography. Through the Eye of the Camera: 19th and 20th Century Photography from the Royal & SunAlliance Collection on display at Charlotte's Mint Museum of Art February 14 through May 2, 2004 will both surprise and please photography buffs in largely achieving an ambitious collection goal. The exhibition is organized by Martha Mayberry, Mint Curator of Prints and Drawings, and made possible with funding provided by Royal & SunAlliance.

The exhibition of 57 photographs is a pictorial history of a nation as it expanded, achieved, agonized and matured from its frontier origins to its role on the world stage today. The roster of 37 artists is a virtual who's who of exceptional talent and vision that impacted the evolution of the field. Included are photographs by Berenice Abbott, Ansel Adams, Diane Arbus, Matthew Brady, Margaret Bourke-White, Edward Curtis, Lewis Hine, Robert Mapplethorpe, Eadweard Muybridge, Joel Meyerowitz, Arnold Newman, Alfred Stieglitz and Jerry Uelsmann.

"The photographs of the American West form an impressive part of the Royal & SunAlliance Collection," stated Marianne Fulton, Artistic Director for The Light Factory Photographic Center in her guest essay in the accompanying gallery brochure. The potential of the power and influence of photography is evident in Carleton Watkins' Grizzly Giant, Mariposa Gove, California. The vast scale of western landscape is represented by the tremendous tree trunk that dwarfs the pictured man as the trunk's base pushes against the side of the image. Such pictures for the U.S. government geological surveys doubled as highly marketable prints back East. Watkins' and William Henry Jackson's panoramic mountain views were instrumental in convincing Abraham Lincoln to sign the Yosemite Bill in 1864, creating the first national park. (right: William Henry Jackson (1843-1942), Long's Peak from Estes Park, Colorado, c.1873, albumen print)

The emotional power of the photograph to cause an outcry for changing custom or law is starkly evident in Lewis Wickes Hine's A Little Spinner in a Georgia Cotton Mill, c.1900. Hine documented working conditions for the National Child Labor Committee beginning in 1908. Hine lowered his camera to the child's level, dwarfed by the mammoth machinery and silhouetted by tall, shadowy adult figures in the background, as if guarding against the girl's factory escape.(left: Lewis Wickes Hine, A Little Spinner in a Georgia Cotton Mill, c. 1900, gelatin silver print)

Alfred Stieglitz was the early champion of photography being accepted as art, insisting that as one-of-a-kind objects, they were as legitimate a medium as painting. As a gallery owner, Stieglitz presented critical commentary on photography and on the work of such artists as Edward Steichen, Gertrude Kasebier and Robert Demachy through his fine art journal Camera Work. As a photographer, Stieglitz settled on contemporary American city life as a favorite subject.

Photography as art was enhanced by a variety of influences, from magazine exposure to collectors, galleries and museums and by such professional contributions as the delicate images of nature as captured by Eliot Porter, a pioneer in the use of color photography in the 1940s.

Through the Eye of the Camera includes exhibition themes of historic and social documentary, architecture, naturalism, urban/rural landscapes and portraiture. Photography process includes daguerreotype, albumen print, collotype, photogravure, gelatin silver print, and color techniques explored by photographers in the 1980s. (right: Jim Dow (1952- ), Wrigley Field, Chicago, National League, 1985, three part panoramic, Cibachrome)

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Mint Museum of Art / Mint Museum of Craft+Design in Resource Library Magazine.

Search for more articles and essays on American art in Resource Library. See America's Distinguished Artists for biographical information on historic artists.

This page was originally published in 2003 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.

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