Fatherly Fields

Photographers of Genius
The J. Paul Getty Museum
                                                                                                     
O fatherly fields bristling up with arbors...
                                                                                                                                     Desbordes-Valmore

David Octavius Hill & Robert Adamson
Mrs. Elizabeth (Johnstone) Hall
salt print
ca. 1846

Talbot got more than he bargained for. Actual 3-D representations of spatial relationships, Piero’s chalice, and not a tuppenny drawing machine. Hippolyte Bayard’s cyanotype of a lace glove (pale ocher dentelle on pale blue) is Paris.

In no time, De Prangey’s Parthenon, a daguerreotype. Anna Atkins’ Ceylon, a fern (cyanotype). Hill and Adamson wake up the last of the sleeping tigers with a surface of stern accuracy. The best are not now sleeping, never were.

Except, curiously, Rodin, who calls the photographer a liar, time not standing still in the event!

Stern, too, are the Langenheims (Niagara, West Point, stereographs).

Gustave Le Gray: scud, boat and sky, and then the flawless portraits. Roger Fenton has a telling way with photographs. Nadar, his Marceline Desbordes-Valmore emerges from the background, his Théophile Gautier rises from the depths, his self-portrait is cunning planes, artful hands, the eye.

 

Nadar
Self-Portrait
salt print
1854
6 11/16 x 8 1/16 inches

 

Carleton Watkins might be the problem Ansel Adams faced, too vast, close and magnificent to be dealt with. Camille Silvy, said in his own day to have “perfection.”

Muybridge. Julia Margaret Cameron and Gertrude Käsebier hide the shock in mere æstheticism, genteelly, not that you can miss it. Timothy H. O’Sullivan photographs his own rolling darkroom in the desert, Henry P. Bosse the unmistakable precisionist great landscapes in fine cyanotypes.

What doesn’t Eakins know (going back to Talbot) from his photographs?

 

Carleton Watkins
Russian Hill Observatory
albumen silver stereograph, mounted on card stock
1863

   

Lewis Hine worked for the Government, photographing towsers and misses at work. Stieglitz found the pivot of instantaneous photography, Atget the lever. Charles Sheeler’s lighted surfaces blossom with existence. Paul Strand borrows from Carleton Watkins the foreground fixing the stare to let the rest escape.

 

Tmothy H. O'Sullivan
Desert Sand Hills near Sink of Carson, Nevada
albumen print
1867
11 7/16 x 8 13/16 inches

 

August Sander, a confirmed portraitist (like Picasso). Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Kertész. Wit, verve, élan, Rodchenko. Albert Renger-Patzsch, the baboon sits for his grand portrait. Doris Ulmann’s artful portraits of nobody in particular.

 

August Sander
Farm Girls
gelatin silver print
1928

 

Dorothea Lange, mistress of her emotions, her tiny pure Taos. Weegee’s nightclub, police station, 3-D movie theater. Walker Evans, the expert photographer. Brassaï, the careful night photographer.

Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s great compositions. Weston’s perfect nudes. Cartier-Bresson, the monumental sculptor.

 

Edward Weston
Nude, Mexico
gelatin silver print
1924
9 5/16 x 5 3/8 inches

 

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