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"Sometimes a picture is more than a picture; sometimes it’s a message in a bottle from 150 years ago.

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In this particular case, the picture is both an original albumen print and a gorgeous close-up portrait of a sleeping 2-year-old child. In the lower margin is written in longhand, "My grandchild Archie."

The photographer — and the writer of the marginal notation — was Julia Margaret Cameron, whose unusually intimate pre-Raphaelite images proved not only that photography was an art, but that women could master it.

It’s an arresting image, but it’s far from the only high point of the Palm Beach Photographic Centre’s "Full of Grace: The Child in Photography," the most extensive theme show the Centre has ever done.

It revives dormant memories of Edward Steichen’s "Family of Man" exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1955, which resulted in a book that sold four million copies.

In essence, the show traces the history of photography from close to its beginnings through modern masters such as Joel Meyerowitz and Gregory Crewdson in a knockout series of more than 250 prints, most of them original prints from private collections.

They range from Dorothea Lange’s iconic picture of a migrant mother — also featured in the Steichen exhibit — to W. Eugene Smith’s equally iconic photo Walk to Paradise Garden, of his children emerging from darkness into light.

What makes curator Ray Merritt’s show special is its breadth, the excellence of the images, and the quality of the prints. You can buy a copy of Lange’s photo from the government – Lange was working for FDR’s Farm Security Administration at the time — but this is a vintage print.

Likewise, Eugene Smith was legendarily persnickety about his prints, but this is one he made himself and it looks like it.

There are also premier shots by Alfred Eisenstadt, Robert Frank – his children are passengers in a car and look alarmed, as well they might – Cartier-Bresson and even one of Leni Riefenstahl’s Nubian photos.

The only glaring lack are Diane Arbus’ creepy twins, replicated by Stanley Kubrick to unsettling effect in The Shining.

I was particularly taken with Erwin Olaf’s The Ice Cream Parlor, a recent work including a Cub Scout, a dog, and an ice cream cone that aims to replicate the composition, lighting and effect of a Norman Rockwell portrait.

In fact, heavily designed art photography is the most prominent continuing feature of the recent work in the exhibit, as with a picture from Gregory Crewdson’s Twilight series, of a pregnant woman standing in a child’s wading pool while another woman fills the pool with a hose and a chubby young boy lies asleep on the grass a few feet away. In the background is a frame house with the lights showing through a window.

The effect is double-edged: normalcy in suburbia, but with an excessive formality in the composition and lighting. The layer of contrivance gives the shot a creepy David Lynch hint of something terrible happening just beneath the mundane surface.

The show is not without a certain amount of implicit edginess, mainly over subtly sexualized images of youth. There are several shots from Larry Clark of young troubled teens, all of which might as well be titled "Jailbait." Joel Meyerowitz Heidi is of a stunningly lovely young teenager on the beach, each hair on her head individualized, the large format camera even capturing the fine down on her arms.

Likewise Andres Serrano’s American Jewel, a portrait of the winner of a children’s beauty pageant called "Little Yankee Miss," drips with irony.

But the show also points out that sexualizing children is nothing new, for there are some original tinted and toned prints of Lewis Carroll’s portraits of Alice Liddell, with her torn shirt worn off her shoulder. The overall effect is that of a saucy waif-pirate.

This is the largest show the Photo Centre has done; it not only fills the Centre’s beautiful exhibition space, confirming its multifaceted utility, it also confirms Photo Centre director Fatima NeJame’s ambitions." - article source http://www.pbpulse.com/arts-and-culture/2012/02/05/palm-beach-photograph...

What: "Full of Grace: The Child in Photography"

When: Now through March 17th

Where: Palm Beach Photographic Centre, 415 Clematis St., City Hall complex, West Palm Beach

Information: (561) 253-2600

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