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"An American Century of Photography: From Dry-plate to Digital, The Hallmark Photographic Collection"
2001-02-09 until 2001-04-22
Delaware Art Museum
Wilmington, DE, USA United States of America

This exhibition is an overview of American photography from the mid-1880s to the present. Drawn entirely from the Hallmark Photographic Collection, one of the most renowned holdings of its kind in the world, this survey of over 100 works chronicles the history of the medium during the most vital age of American photography. Included are rare images and vintage prints by such well-known artists as Stieglitz, Steichen, Riis, White, Strand, Weston, Abbott, Lange, Cunningham, Man Ray, Sheeler, Evans, Siskind, Weegee, Frank, Avedon, Penn, Friedlander, Barney, Tress, Close, Witkin, Weems and Mann.

The images present an era of great technical and social change. By about 1890, the practice and impact of photography in American culture had been transformed by several important developments. Chief among these were the replacement of the earlier wet-collodion process with the dry-plate and roll-film technologies, the introduction of the hand-held camera, the rise of amateur photography, and the widespread reproduction of photographs in the form of printed halftones. These changes greatly increased the medium’s applications and made it even more integral to American life than it had been previously. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, the camera-generated image is undergoing fundamental transformation through the impact of electronic imaging systems and thecomputer. An American Century of Photography celebrates the thematic and artistic riches of photography during its most inventive and influential century – the era between these monumental technological shifts.

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

The first section, 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, Gerturde Käsebier 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 semiabstract 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 of the leading figures of the photographic avant-garde of the late 1910s and 1920s: Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strang, Morton Schamberg, Alvin Langdon Coburn and Edward Steichen. Edward Weston's influence and artistic milieu is suggested in the work of such friends of Group f/64 associates as Johan Hagemeyer, Tina Modotti, Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham. The New Vision of the 1920s European avant-garde is surveyed in a selection of key prints by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, André Kertész, Florence Henri and others. This section also includes works devoted to the subjects of technology and the machine, early photojournalism, and Depression-era images by 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 a series of urban pictures – by Weegee, Helen Levitt, Homer Page, Leon Levinstein, 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. 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, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Ray Metzker, Jerry Uelsmann and Duane Michals.

The fourth and final section of the exhibition, 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 this mood of discord are seen in works by artists as varied as Arthur Tress and William Eggleston. The influence of contemporary artistic concerns is seen in the use of photography by such leading painters and sculptors as Andy Warhol, Chuck Close and Gordon Matta-Clark. The postmodern concerns of the 1980s are expressed in works by such leading figures as Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger and James Casebere. The themes of identity and the body are explored in photographs by Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, Tseng Kwong Chi and others. The most advanced technical possiblities of the medium are reflected in digital images by Peter Campus and Nancy Burson. The exhibition ends with groups of pictures devoted to two themes of continuing artistic importance – landscape and the domestic realm – with respresentative works by contemporary artists such as Robert Adams, Emmet Gowin, Lynn Davis, Milton Rogovin, Sally Mann, Jeffrey Wolin, Nicolas Nixon and Abelardo Morell.

In Delaware, An American Century of Photography: From Dry-plate to Digital: The Hallmark Photographic Collection is sponsored, in part, by DuPont, AstraZeneca, 1450 WILM NEWSRADIO, Cameras, Etc. and the Delaware Division of the Arts.

Ralph Gibson,
Face, 1981,
gelatin silver print,
12 x 8 inches.
The Hallmark Photographic Collection,
Hallmark Cards, Inc.,
Kansas City, Missouri.

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