Seattle Art Museum

Seattle, WA

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An American Century of Photography: From Dry-Plate to Digital


Nearly 250 photographs spanning more than 100 years, including the ground-breaking work of Eadweard Muybridge, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Diane Arbus, Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman, will be an view in Seattle Art Museum's Special Exhibition Galleries Sept. 30, 1999 - Jan. 16, 2000. Drawn entirely from the Hallmark Photographic Collection, one of the most renowned holdings of its kind in the world, this exhibition represents both an introduction to and exploration of this vital age of American photography.

An American Century of Photography: From Dry-Plate to Digital, the Hallmark Photographic Collection was conceived and organized by Keith F. Davis, Hallmark Cards Inc.'s Fine Art Programs Director. It is curated in Seattle by Davis with Trevor Fairbrother, SAM's Deputy Director for Art/ Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Modern Art, and Tara Reddy, assistant curator of Modern Art.

The exhibition juxtaposes such iconic images as Alfred Stieglitz's The Steerage (1907) or Edward Weston's Pepper No. 30 (1930) with less-familiar works by other artists of the same eras, encouraging a deeper and richer understanding of the medium's history. The show surveys photography's thematic and artistic riches from the mid-1880s to the present, from one great era of technical and social change to another. Monumental innovations in the late 19th century, such as dry-plate technology, hand-held cameras and halftone reproductions, greatly increased the medium's applications and made it increasingly integral to American life. Now, at the turn of the 21st century, the camera-generated image is again undergoing fundamental transformation through the impact of electronic imaging systems and computers.

An American Century of Photography is arranged in four chronological sections, each spanning about 25 years. Within each section, works are grouped by themes that underscore stylistic similarities or contrasts, as well as individual friendships or influences. The first section, A Reluctant Modernism: 1890-1915, includes high-speed work from the late 1880s by Eadweard Muybridge; large-format commercial work by Charles D. Arnold; turn-of-the-century Pictorialist images by Clarence H. White, Gertrude Käsebier and others of the Stieglitz circle; documentary images by photographers such as Adam Clark Vroman and Lewis Hine; and semiabstract studies of natural forms by photographers such as Wilson A. Bentley and Bertha E. Jaques.

Abstraction and Realism: 1915-1940, the exhibition's second section, begins with an overview of the work of the Clarence White School, featuring such notable figures as Paul Outerbridge, Ralph Steiner and Laura Gilpin. Also on view are prints by leaders of the photographic avant-garde of the late 1910s and early 1920s: Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Alvin Langdon Coburn and Edward Steichen. Edward Weston's influence and artistic milieu is evident in the work of friends or "Group f/64" associates such as Johan Hagemeyer, Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham. Prints by László Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, André Kertész and others represent the "New Vision" of the 1920s European avant-garde. The section also includes prints relating to the themes of technology and the machine; early photojournalism; the late Pictorialist aesthetic; and the classic Depression-era documentary images of Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein and Ben Shahn.

The third section of the exhibition, From Public to Private Concerns: 1940-1965, begins with a selection of photographs of World War II. This is followed by urban pictures - by Weegee (Arthur Fellig), Helen Levitt, Gordon Parks, Roy DeCarava, Robert Frank and others - that convey the mixed artistic mood of the postwar period, a mood of both restless vitality and moody introspection. Works by Frederick Sommer, Minor White, Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind demonstrate the period's most subjective artistry, while the art of applied photography is seen in fashion and portrait images by Richard Avedon, Irving Penn and others. The section concludes with work of the early 1960s by artists as diverse as Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Duane Michals.

The Image Transformed: 1965-Present begins with photojournalistic icons of the era's political and social turmoil by Charles Moore and Larry Burrows. Artistic responses to the period's discord are seen in works by artists such as Arthur Tress and William Eggleston. Photographs by such leading painters and sculptors as Andy Warhol, Chuck Close and Gordon Matta-Clark demonstrate the influence of contemporary artistic concerns. Postmodern issues of the 1980s are suggested in works by such leading figures as Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and James Casebere, while the themes of identity and the body are explored in works by Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, Tseng Kwong Chi and others.

The medium's most advanced technical possibilities are reflected in digital images by Peter Campus and Nancy Burson. The exhibition concludes with photographs representing two continually important themes - landscape and the domestic realm - by contemporary artists such as Robert Adams, Emmet Gowin, Lynn Davis, Sally Mann, Jeffrey Wolin and Abelardo Morell.

Accompanying the exhibition is a book written by exhibition organizer Keith F. Davis, An American Century of Photography: From Dry-Plate to Digital (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1999). The 592-page book, which includes 499 illustrations, will be on sale in the Museum Stores.

An earlier version of the exhibition traveled to several sites in the U.S., New Zealand and Australia in 1994-97. The present exhibition, which includes a large number of new works, debuted at the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, ( see An American Century of Photography: From Dry-Plate to Digital, Selections from The Hallmark Photographic Collection) earlier this year. Following its presentation in Seattle, the exhibition will travel to the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri; the Joslyn Museum, Omaha; the Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington; the Columbus Museum, Columbus, Georgia; and the Denver Art Museum.

From top to bottom: All photographs are courtesy of the Hallmark Photography Collection, Hallmark Cards, Inc., Kansas City, Missouri: Arnold Genthe, Street of the Gamblers, c. 1896, gelatin silver print, made c. 1920s; Fazal Sheikh, Hadija and Her Father, Somali Refugee Camp, Mandera Kenya, 1993, gelatin silver print.

Read more about the Seattle Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/26/10

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