October 12, 2009
One Hundred Years of Photography
At the DIA
The Detroit Institute of Arts is currently displaying a historical photographic survey dating from 1840 to 1940. Images created by European and American photographers, Ansel Adams, Berenice Abbot, Eugene Atget, Julia Margaret Cameron, Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand and Edward Weston as well as many others.
The exhibition is a chronicle of photographic techniques and changes in style over a 100 year period. The exhibit depicts changes in emphasis from abstracts and landscapes to documentary traditions. In the early years of photography, there was a heavy emphasis on landscapes and natural subjects such as the Grand Canyon and other natural wonders. Family photographs were a really momentous event that only happened once or twice in a lifetime.
The Brownie Camera was introduced by Kodak in 1900 with the slogan:”You push the button and we do the rest.” It was simple camera that everyone could afford with the price of $1. The introduction of this camera turned everyone into a photographer. It was no longer necessary to go to a photo studio for photographs. The phenomenon was similar to today’s revolution with the digital cameras, camera phones and video recordings.
The introduction of the Brownie triggered a focus shift from landscapes and inanimate objects to photography of individuals such as the photo of “Helpers in a Cotton Mill” by Lewis Wickes Hines and Fashion Photography including pictures of models like Tatiana Sorokko. Photographs began to show everyday life of everyday people.
Photography was and is an extremely relevant form of art for society. Certain images depict important changes in society. There are iconic images for each era. Some examples are the images of the atom bomb over Japan during World War II, the planting of the American Flag at Iwo Jima, stark images of lynching and water hosing in the South during the Civil Rights movement. The malformed face of Emmett Till after his encounter in Mississippi was a catalyst for the Civil Rights movement. Every African American who viewed his picture was horrified. These images put America’s shameful secret out for everyone in the world to see. As a consequence, history was affected. The Ohio State killing of students depicted by the female student with her hands outstretched asking “why” over the dead body of a Vietnam War protester is another harrowing image. Who can forget the image of the Vietnamese child burned by chemicals?
Photography is an extremely important medium of art.
Photographic art captures the beauty and the ugly of life in the 20th century. The exhibit is displayed in the Albert and Peggy DeSalle Gallery on the first level of the museum through January 3rd, 2010. It is worth seeing. The DIA also offers a companion CD for 35.00.