A History of Photography

June 13–October 11, 2015, History of Photography Gallery

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    Dr. Josef Maria Eder (Austrian, 1855-1944) and Eduard Valenta (Austrian, 1857-1937). Zwei Goldfische und ein Seefisch (Christiceps argentatus), 1896. Photogravure print from x-ray negative. Gift of Eastman Kodak Company; ex-collection of Josef Maria Eder.

The George Eastman Museum photography collection is among the best and most comprehensive in the world. With holdings that include objects ranging in date from the announcement of the medium’s invention in 1839 to the present day, the collection represents the full history of photography. Works by renowned masters of the medium exist side-by-side with vernacular and scientific photographs. The collection also includes all applications of the medium, from artistic pursuit to commercial enterprise and from amateur pastime to documentary record, as well as all types of photographic processes, from daguerreotypes to digital prints.

In May 2014, the museum dedicated the History of Photography Gallery to rotating installations that demonstrate photography’s historical trajectory through photographs and cameras drawn from the collection. The selection will change three times a year, continually refreshing the experience of visiting the Eastman Museum and offering regular opportunities to display the museum’s treasures.

This new rotation, on view from June 13 through October 11, is co-curated by Rachel Andrews and Andrew Murphy, graduate students in the joint Ryerson University and the Eastman Museum Master of Arts in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management (PPCM) program.

The selection of photographs in this rotation provides another view into the complex history of the photographic medium. The curators have chosen to highlight photographers that have been critical contributors to the discourse, such as Josef Maria Eder (1855–1944), Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946), and Martin Parr (b. 1952). The types of photographs range from unconventional daguerreotypes to the painterly works of the Pictorialists, to contemporary conceptual photography.

As curators, Andrews and Murphy show that the history of photography has not progressed in a linear fashion since its invention in 1839. Rather, the medium from its beginning has been full of converging and concurrent movements, processes, and photographers. For example, some photographers who embraced the Pictorialist movement eventually abandoned it but continued taking pictures in modernist or commercial styles. Processes that were thought obsolete were resurrected by new generations of photographers. Photographs that were once considered purely scientific and objective documents came to be viewed as works of art. The exhibition highlights these differing perceptions, showcasing a small portion of the extensive Eastman Museum collection.

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