Understanding The Lives and Times of Great Photographers

Richard Sadler, Weegee in Coventry, 1963

William Henry Fox Talbot, The Ladder, April 1844

Lady Clementina Hawarden, Isabella Grace and Clementine Maude Hawarden, c.1863

George Davison, Portrait of Mr. Louisa Davison, March 1906

Unknown, Lewis Hine Photographing Children in a Slum, c. 1910

Lewis Hine, Tenement Playground, New York City (1900-1937)

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dessau, Germany, 1945

Understanding The Lives and Times of Great Photographers

The Lives of Great Photographers is an inspiring exhibition at the National Media Museum in Bradford (UK), which draws on the Museum’s renowned collection to showcase the pioneers behind the camera, exploring the extraordinary stories surrounding some of photography’s most important innovators and artists. It focuses on the work of early photographers who took the initiative to establish photography as an industry during the 19th and 20th centuries. Featuring Henri Cartier-Bresson, Julia Margaret Cameron, Robert Capa, William Henry Fox Talbot, Weegee, Tony Ray-Jones, Fay Godwin and Eadweard Muybridge, the exhibition displays iconic images and artefacts from these and other great names. As technology evolved, the breadth and range of photography increased, and the methods by which it could provide artistic expression became more diverse. The pioneering photographers produced some of the first celebrity photographs in existence, created war/art photography during World War I and produced some of the earliest fashion and advertising photography.

Photography also proved an ideal medium for documenting world events: some of the earliest documentary photographers, including Lewis Hine and Dorothea Lange, were driven by their social consciences to record the Great Depression in America. Photojournalism, the cousin of documentary photography, is represented in the exhibition by artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, founding members of the world’s first photographic agency, Magnum. Both men served in World War II and produced images that helped define an era.

However, while this exhibition considers the lives of photographers as much as their work, to what extent do their photographs reflect the lives, thoughts, feelings or beliefs of the person behind the camera? Although understanding the life and times of a photographer can inform and help to understand their work, it is important not to read too much into a photograph without considering when, and under what situation it was taken. Caution has to be exerted because we can never really know what the photographer was thinking, or feeling when they took the photograph. The danger is that we read something into the image that perhaps doesn’t really exist, except in our own minds.

Brian Liddy has provided an excellent, detailed discussion of some limitations involved in attempts to interpret the lives of great photographers, and uses photographs from this exhibition as examples.

The Lives of Great Photographers

Lives of the Great Photographers: Photographing Conflict

Photo-Gallery: Understanding The Lives and Times of Great Photographers

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American Dreams: Iconic Images of 20th Century Life

Richard Avedon, Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent, 1981

Gertrude Käsebier, The Sketch (Beatrice Baxter), 1903

Lewis Hine, Powerhouse Mechanic, 1920

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936

Mary Ellen Mark, Lily with Her Rag Doll, Seattle, 1983

American Dreams: Iconic Images of 20th Century Life

American Dreams is a wonderful exhibition that provides a survey of the great American photographers of the 20th century. The exhibition consists of of photographs from arguably the world’s most important photographic museum, George Eastman House, and is currently being shown at Australia’s Bendigo Art Gallery.

The works highlight the pioneering role these American artists have had on the world stage in developing and shaping photography, and the impact these widely published images have had on the greater society. Their far-reaching images helped shape American culture, and had an impact on the fundamental role photography has in communications today. Even more than this, we can see through these artists the burgeoning love of photography that engaged a nation.

These images show us not only the development of photography, but also provide some of the most powerful social documentary photography of the last century. We see extraordinary moments captured in the lives of a wide range of Americans, works that distil the dramatic transformation that affected people during the 20th century: the affluence, degradation, loss, hope and change, both personally and throughout society.

American Dreams: Iconic Images of 20th Century Life

Photo-Gallery: American Dreams/Iconic Images of 20th Century Life

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Dorothea Lange: Three Mormon Towns

Dorothea Lange, Couple Seated on Porch, Gunlock, Utah, 1953

Dorothea Lange, Anne Carter Johnson, St. George, Utah, 1953

Dorothea Lange, Riley Savage, Toquerville, Utah, 1953

Dorothea Lange, Jake Jones’ Hands, Gunlock, Utah, 1953

Dorothea Lange, Horseplay, Gunlock, Utah, 1953

Dorothea Lange: Three Mormon Towns

In August 1953, renowned American photographer Dorothea Lange traveled to southern Utah where she met up with her long-time friend Ansel Adams. The two photographers spent three weeks photographing the landscape and people of Toquerville, Gunlock and St. George. Lange’s enthusiasm for her subject yielded hundreds of photographs. Thirty-five of those photographs were published as Three Mormon Towns in the September 6, 1954 issue of Life Magazine.

Dorothea Lange’s Three Mormon Towns was recently displayed in exhibition at the Brigham Young University Museum of Art. Three Mormon Towns represents a bridge between Lange’s famous Depression Era photographs and her later detailed photographic essays of the 1950s. Known for her candid and sympathetic depiction of people, Three Mormon Towns presents a study of contrasts: of old and new, of quiet villages and a growing city, of deep roots and transient highways. In this series of photographs, Lange memorialized the dignity and simplicity of agrarian life in light of post-war urbanization.

Dorothea Lange: Portraiture and Documentary Photography

Slide Show: Dorothea Lange/Three Mormon Towns

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