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In Pictures: the Photography Sensation
January 5, 2018 - April 7, 2018
With the invention of photography in the late 1830s, it became possible for people of middle-class means to have portraits made of themselves, their families, and their friends.
In the 1840s and 1850s, numerous photographers opened commercial studios to satisfy the seemingly insatiable demand for portraits while amateur and fine-art photographers often depicted more intimate acquaintances in related settings. Many embraced the pictorial conventions of the other arts, such as portraying people with the attributes of their professions, posing a solitary figure in contemplation of a landscape, or closely studying a common object relevant to their personal history.
Over time photographers and subjects alike quickly recognized the collaborative nature of this new art. Whereas a painter could turn a scowl into a smile or an awkward gesture into a graceful pose, a photographer could not. Suddenly, both the photographer and the subject entered into a new dance where each wielded power. The photographer determined how to present the subject, choosing what moment to record and how to frame, compose, and print the picture. The subject matter also gained a previously unknown amount of control, determining how much to interact with the photographer and how much of himself or herself to conceal or reveal.
This exhibit examines the various relationships between photographer and subject while exploring how photography transformed over time and how the act of posing for a portrait changed with the evolution of the medium. Featured works in the gallery come from the early 1840s—just after photography was invented—through the 21st century and showcase various photography mediums including daguerreotypes, tintypes, ambrotypes, cabinet cards, stereoviews, and 35mm photography.