The Phillips Collection

Washington D.C.

(202) 387-2151


An American Century of Photography: From Dry-Plate to Digital, Selections from The Hallmark Photographic Collection


January 23 through March 28, 1999

An American Century of Photography: From Dry-Plate to Digital, Selections from The Hallmark Photographic Collection presents an overview of American photography from the mid-1880s to the present. This survey, which begins its national tour at The Phillips Collection, continues a recently established initiative to show American photography in special exhibitions at the museum.

Past exhibitions at The Phillips Collection have focused on important modernist photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz, Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, and Consuelo Kanaga. An American Century of Photography provides an opportunity to place these major artists within the larger context of modernist photography. It offers a unique occasion to evaluate the technical, social, and artistic developments reflected in American photography over the past century. In addition, the exhibition highlights the relationships between modem art and photography.

An American Century of Photography was conceived and organized by Keith F. Davis, Fine Art Programs Director, Hallmark Cards, Inc., Kansas City, Missouri. Davis sees An American Century as a logical expression of his 30-year interest in photography. He says, "The goals of this exhibition and book are twofold: to celebrate the strengths of a single collection, and to use this holding to remind us of the depth and range of modern photography as a whole. The exhibition attempts to speak to a very broad spectrum of viewers. Some of the works in the show will be recognized by everyone; others will be entirely new, even to experts. I hope this combination of the familiar and the unexpected helps to expand and enrich our understanding of the topic."

Drawn entirely from The Hallmark Photographic Collection--one of the most renowned holdings of its kind in the world with some 4,000 works--this exhibition provides a broad view of the art and history of American photography of the late-19th and 20th centuries. It includes many rare vintage prints and a deliberate mixture of both famous and little-known works. By juxtaposing icons of American photography such as Alfred Stieglitz's The Steerage (1907) or Edward Weston's Pepper No. 30 (1930) with less-familiar works by other artists, the exhibition encourages a deeper and richer understanding of photography's history. In addition, the exhibition encompasses prints by Europeans such as Andre Kertesz and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy who eventually came to the United States, where they made a significant contribution to American photography. Thus, while the selection of works focuses on American themes and subjects, it also suggests an international cross-pollination of ideas and influences.

An American. Century of Photography is arranged chronologically in four sections, each spanning a period of approximately a quarter century. Within each section, thematic groupings of works underscore stylistic similarities or contrasts, as well as specific friendships or influences.

The first section of the show, "A Reluctant Modernism: 1890-1915," includes high-speed work from the late 1880s by Eadweard Muybridge and Francis Blake; important artistic images of the 1890s by William A. Fraser and F. Holland Day; large-format commercial work by Charles D. Arnold and William H. Rau; turn - of - the - century Pictorialist images by Clarence H. White, Gertrude Kasebier, and others of the Stieglitz circle; early modernist works of the 1910s by Karl Struss and Alvin Langdon Coburn; documentary images by photographers as varied as Lewis Hine and Edward S. Curtis; and semi-abstract studies of natural forms by photographers such as Wilson A. Bentley and Bertha E. Jaques.

"Abstraction and Realism: 1915-1940," the second section of the exhibition, begins with an overview of the work of the Clarence White School, featuring such notable figures as Paul Outerbridge, Ralph Steiner, and Laura Gilpin. This is followed by important prints by the leading figures 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 then suggested through the work of friends and "Group f/64" associates such as Johan Hagemeyer, Tina Modotti, Ansel Adams, and Imogen Cunningham. The "New Vision" work of the 1920s European avant-garde is surveyed in a selection of important images by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Andre Kertesz, Florence Henri, and others. This is followed by prints devoted to the subjects of technology and the machine; early photojournalism; American works inspired by the European "New Vision" aesthetic; late Pictorialist photographs; and, finally, a group of Depression-era Farm Securities Administration images by Walker Evans, Arthur Rothstein, and Ben Shahn.

The third section of the exhibition, "From Public to Private Concerns: 1940-1965," begins with photographs of World War II. This is followed by a series of urban pictures--by Weegee, Helen Levitt, Homer Page, Gordon Parks, Roy DeCarava, Robert Frank, and others--that convey the mixed artistic mood of the postwar period, one of both restless vitality and moody introspection. The most subjective artistic photography of the period is seen in the work of Frederick Sommer, Minor White, Harry Callahan, and Aaron Siskind, while the art of applied photography is exemplified in fashion and portrait images by Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Arnold Newman, and others. This section concludes with work of the early 1960s by photographers as varied in style and approach as Diane Arbus, Carry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Jerry Uelsmann, and Duane Michals .

The final section of the exhibition, "The Image Transformed: 1965-Present," shows the influence of contemporary artistic concerns. Responses to the mood of discord during the period are seen in works by artists as varied as Arthur Tress and William Eggleston. The mutual influence of photography and painting is seen in images by Andy Warhol and Chuck Close. The postmodern concerns of the 1980s are demonstrated in the work of Barbara Kruger, while the themes of identity and the body are explored in works by Cindy Sherman and Robert Mapplethorpe. The exhibition ends with groups of pictures devoted to two themes of continuing artistic importance--landscape and the domestic realm--with representative works by contemporary artists such as Robert Adams, Emmet Gowin, Lynn Davis, Sally Mann, Nicholas Nixon, and Abelardo Morell.

From top to bottom: All photographs are courtesy of the Hallmark Photography Collection, Hallmark Cards, Inc., Kansas City, Misxsouri. Francis Blake (1850-1913) Pigeons in Flight, ca. 1886-90; gelatin silver print; Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), Ford Plant-Criss Crossed Conveyors, 1927, vintage gelatin silver print; Sandy Skoglund (b.1946), Fox Games, 1989, Cibachrome print, © Sandy Skoglund; Sally Mann (b. 1951) Gorjus, 1989, gelatin silver print, © Sally Mann; Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Georgia O'Keeffe, A Portrait, 1933, vintage gelatin silver print; Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966), The House of a Thousand Windows, 1912, platinum print; Clarence H. White )1871-1925), The Orchard, 1902, platinum print; Ralph Steiner (1899-1986), untitled (alarm clocks and coffee), ca. 1928, gelatin silver print; Tina Modotti (1896-1942), Campesinos, 1926, gelatin silver print; Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985), Farmer and Sons Walking in Dust Storm, Cimarron County, Oklahoma, 1933, vintage gelatin silver print; Weegee [Arthur Fellig] (1899-1968), The Critic, 1943, gelatin silver print, © 1994 International Center of Photography, New York, Bequest of Wilma Wilcox; Gordon Parks (b.1912) Emerging Man, 1952, gelatin silver print, © Grodon Parks; Ralph Gibson (b.1939), Face, 1981, vintage gelatin silver print, © Ralph Gibson; William Christenberry (b.1936), Window near Stewart, Alabama, 1988, dye coupler print, © William Christenberry

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

rev. 9/20/10

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2010 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.