The Eastman Collection at UMMA
Three floors of photographic history
by Laura Bien
From the May, 2006 issue
Before its June 24 move to temporary quarters during its renovation, the U-M Museum of Art is giving itself a blowout sendoff with a sweeping survey of the history of photography, opening April 22.
The exhibition Rethinking the Photographic Image: The Best of Photography from the George Eastman House Collection will offer 250 photographs ranging from mid-nineteenth-century prints to contemporary works. The show as planned will include iconic images by Margaret Bourke-White, Lewis Hines, Ansel Adams, and famed Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, in four chronological sections on three floors of the museum.
The oldest section, "Beginnings," contains 1845 photographs called "salted paper print." This photographic technique involves soaking paper in a salt solution, coating it with silver nitrate, and exposing it to an image projected from a negative, sometimes for as long as eight hours.
Other "Beginnings" prints include an 1882 albumen print of Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony, and Sarony's 1880 portrait of Sarah Bernhardt. There's also Timothy
O'Sullivan's 1863 albumen print A Harvest of Death at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Mathew Brady's stunning portrait of a deeply war-wearied Lincoln, and Alexander Gardner's 1865 photo Lewis Payne, One of the Lincoln Conspirators, before His Execution.
The next chronological section of the exhibit, "The Shaping Eye," includes photos by chroniclers of less picturesque aspects of American life, including Al-fred Stieglitz's 1907 print The Steerage and One of Many Young Spinners in a Carolina Mill, Lewis Hines's sobering 1908 photo of a girl about eight years old, unsupervised, adjusting something on a huge machine taller than she is and filling an entire room.
The following section, "Active Witness," presents prints from Walker Evans that include Roadside Stand, Vicinity Birmingham, Alabama, 1936, showing two boys proudly holding giant melons in front of a fish shop's sign promising "Honest Weights, Square Dealings." There's also West Virginia Coal Miner's House, his 1935 photo of a bentwood rocker in front of a cardboard-covered wall decorated with cutouts of two high school
graduates holding up diplomas, facing a Santa Claus cutout hoisting a Coke.
There's also Robert Capa's 1944 print U.S. Troops Landing on D Day, Omaha Beach, Normandy Coast and Joe Rosenthal's endlessly reproduced 1945 Old Glory Goes Up on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima. Harold Edgerton informally referred to his famous 1964 stop-motion photograph of a bullet piercing an apple (above) as How to Make Applesauce. Another of his stop-motion photos shows a drop of milk plopping into a layer of milk, creating a crown of droplets.
The exhibit's final section, "Contemporary Visions," includes Barbara Kruger's ominous 1992 photo You Are a Captive Audience, which shows a woman's uplifted, seemingly protesting hand as a man's hand places a wedding ring on her ring finger. Bringing the exhibit full circle are contemporary works that use old-time technology, such as Irving Pobboravsky's 1998 daguerreotype Pear. The photos will be on display through June 25.
[Review published May 2006]
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