Copper in the Arts

October 2009

Frick Exhibit Features Copper Daguerreotype Photographs

copper sheet photography Eadweard J. Muybridge (American, 1830-1904). Valley of Yosemite, from Rocky Ford, 1872.

Photograph courtesy of The Frick Art Museum
Icons of American Photography: A Century of Photographs from the Cleveland Museum of Art opens Oct. 3 at The Frick Art Museum, featuring examples of early photographs developed with copper daguerreotype sheets. This exhibition is composed of 59 photographs from Cleveland's extraordinary collection that chronicle the evolution of photography in America from a scientific curiosity in the 1850s to one of the most potent forms of artistic expression of the twentieth century.

Icons of American Photography presents some of the best work by masters of the medium, like Mathew Brady, William Henry Jackson, Eadweard Muybridge, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham, Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Robert Frank, encompassing themes of portraiture, the Western landscape, Pictorialism, documentary photography, and abstraction.

The exhibition explores the technical developments of photography, starting with outstanding examples of daguerreotypes-a sheet of copper coated with light sensitive silver. The daguerreotype gave way to salt, albumen, and then gelatin silver prints. Technologies improved to accommodate larger sizes, easy reproduction of multiple prints from a single negative, and commercially available negative film and print papers. As we move into an increasingly digitized twenty-first century, the lure of the photographer's magic and the mysteries of making photographic images appear on paper is still strong.

Icons of American Photography chronicles American life seen through the camera's lens. The earliest days of photography saw a proliferation of portraiture-intimately personal and honest in composition. Advances in photographic processes allowed for a range of expressive qualities that were exploited by photographers with an artistic flair. In a style known as Pictorialism, works such as Hamadryads, 1910, by Anne Brigman (1869-1950) imitated the subject matter of painting.

During the late nineteenth century, the U.S. Congress commissioned photographers to document the American West. Photographs by Timothy O'Sullivan (1840-1882) and William Henry Jackson (1843-1942) are the most celebrated from among this era. Responding to the rapid growth of the twentieth century, many photographers shifted their attention from depictions of the natural world to the urban landscape. The power, energy, and romance of the city inspired varied approaches, from sweeping vistas to tight, close-up details and unusual camera angles.

Exploiting the new medium, numerous photography projects were instituted as part of FDR's New Deal. The most legendary was that of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) run by Roy Stryker, who hired such important photographers such as Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Arthur Rothstein. As an art form, photography kept in step with formalist modern styles and an increasing trend toward abstraction. By 1960, photography had attained a prominent place not only among the fine arts, but in popular culture as well, ushering in a new era of image-based communication that has profoundly affected the arts as well as everyday life.

Icons of American Photography: A Century of Photographs from the Cleveland Museum of Art is organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art. The exhibition is curated by Tom Hinson, Curator of Photography and is on view until Jan. 3, 2010.

Resources:

The Frick Art Museum, 7227 Reynolds St., Pittsburgh, PA, (412) 371-0600

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