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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Our Future Is In The Air: An Eclectic Centennial Exhibition of 1910s Photography

William Mayfield, Orville Wright (1913)

Eugène Atget, Boulevard de Strasbourg, Corsets (1912)

Jacques Henri Lartigue, Le Grand Prix A.C.F. (1913)

Unknown Artist, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks Selling Liberty Loans, Wall Street (1918)

Lewis Hine, Newsies at Skeeter’s Branch, St. Louis, Missouri (1910)

Our Future Is In The Air: An Eclectic Centennial Exhibition of 1910s Photography

The 1910s was a dynamic and tumultuous decade that ushered in the modern era. Our Future Is In The Air is an eclectic centennial exhibition devoted to photography of the 1910s, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The exhibition provides a fascinating look at the birth of modern life through photographs by some 30 artists, who include: Eugène Atget, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Eugène Druet, Lewis Hine, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Adolph de Meyer, Christian Schad, Morton Schamberg, Charles Sheeler, and Stanislaw Witkiewicz, among others.

As cameras became smaller, faster, and easier to operate, amateur photographers such as the child prodigy Jacques-Henri Lartigue pushed the medium in directions that trained photographers of the time shied away from. Since Lartigue was recognized much later as a key figure in photography, prints such as the ones showing speeding motorcar are exceedingly rare. Lartigue made one of his most memorable photographs, Le Grand Prix A.C.F. (1913), by swinging his camera in the same direction as the car, as it sped by. The camera also afforded access to the previously invisible, such as the trajectory created by simple changes in body position, shown in  the motion studies by Futurist artist Anton Giulio Bragaglia.

At the same time, photography became an agent of democratic communication, and documentary photographers used its growing influence to expose degrading conditions of workers, the injustice of child labor, and the devastation of war. Beginning in 1908, Lewis Hine made 5,000 photographs of children working in mills, sweatshops, factories, and street trades.

During World War I, photography was utilized to document the mass casualties of mechanized warfare. The exhibition presents an evocative 1918 photograph of Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks entertaining a huge crowd at a war bonds rally on Wall Street.

The exhibition is accompanied by video of Louis Feuillade’s Les Vampires, a 1915 serial about a brazen band of criminals, which was shot on the streets of Paris (silent film with music track).

Louis Feuillade’s “Les Vampires” (1915)

Slide Show: Our Future Is In The Air

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Lost Youth: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor

Newsboy, “Don’t Smoke, Visits Saloons,” 1910

Young Girl Working in a Textile Mill, Newberry, South Carolina

Boys Working the Midnight Shift, a Glass Factory

A Young Coupling-Boy (12-14 years old) at Indian Mine, Jellico, Tennessee

Children Working at Bibb Mill No. 1., Macon, Georgia

Lost Youth: Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor

Lewis Wickes Hine (1874-1940) attended the University of Chicago and later moved to New York City in 1901, where he accepted a position as an assistant teacher at the Ethical Culture School. At that time, Hine started using the camera as an educational tool and also began to attend the School of Education at New York University.

By 1905, Hine had received his degree from New York University. He continued to photograph for the ECS and while leading its Photography Club, he met Paul Strand. By 1906 Hine was considering a career in Sociological-Photography and began to pursue freelance work with the National Child Labor Committee. In 1908, the NCLC assigned Hine to photograph child labor practices. For the next several years, Hine traveled extensively, photographing children in mines, factories, canneries, textile mills, street trades and agricultural settings.

Hine’s photographs alerted the public to the fact that child labor deprived children of childhood, health, education and a chance of a decent future. His work on this project was the driving force behind changing the public’s attitude about children and work, and it was instrumental in the legislative battles that resulted in the passage of stricter child labor laws.

Lewis Hine: U.S. Child Labor, 1908-1920

Slide Show: Lost Youth/Lewis Hine and the Crusade Against Child Labor

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