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
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