Alison Nordström, Curator of Photographs's Posts

Alison Nordström is the Curator of Photographs at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. Previously the Director and Senior Curator of the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Hine Retrospective Celebrates Collection & Collaboration

Posted by on Mar 19 2012 | Photography

Eastman House has probably done more Lewis Hine exhibitions than anyone else. And yet no one, including Eastman House, had ever done a comprehensive monographical exhibition and publication that looked at the man’s whole career. As a cultural historian, what interested me was the way Hine worked, and how his work related to the social history of his time. He’s clearly a product of the progressive movement at a time when progressive politics and philanthropy were being transitioned into something more like what we now know as sociology and social work. And so the idea of philanthropy and helping the underprivileged moved from a kind of lady bountiful, benevolent philanthropy to a much more systematic study of the problem.

And then, at the end of his life, he was suddenly discovered by people like Beaumont Newhall, and that shift in the meaning of those photographs and the way we understand those photographs is, to me, really core to the way we understand all photographs. They’re slippery things, and their meaning changes with their use.

All of that was something that we could get at with this exhibition. Lewis Hine’s work has been reduced in the popular mind to maybe five or six images that are really famous. But when you do that, you take them so completely out of context that they end up being kind of sentimentalized. And I think that would have been the last thing that Hine would have wanted. So an exhibition of this size, drawing on the remarkable archive that we have here  —  I mean, we have everything — let us return him to the context of his time and to try to bring a richer understanding to the pictures as a whole.

 Group of Italians at Ellis Island, ca. 1905 


Living Quarters of Workers Family in Old Time N.Y. Tenament, 1910

Newsboy Asleep on Steps, ca. 1912

Expert Linotyper in a Southern Publishing House, 1920


Laying Beams, Empire State Building
Construction, ca.1931


The show came out of a conversation with Carlos Gollonet, Agnes Sire, and Frits Giertsberg. Carlos was from the Mapfre Foundation in Madrid. They had been producing really important photographic shows at a great rate. They don’t have a significant photographic collection themselves, so they have been partnering with major institutions all over the world. They worked with Carnavalet, they’ve worked with the Musée d’Orsay. They approached us, asking, “What kind of a major monographical show might you be able to do for us?” And the Lewis Hine archive at Eastman House is one of the reasons I came here. I’ve wanted to do a Lewis Hine show, a serious, comprehensive, big Lewis Hine show, since before coming to Rochester.

I’ve actually known each of the curators involved for probably 10–15 years. And of course, Eastman House has always been part of a network. “International” is not a throwaway word in our name — it’s really who we are.

With the support of the National Museum of Photography of The Netherlands, the Mapfre Foundation, the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris, and the Terra Foundation, which specifically supports American art going to Europe, we were able to do something we couldn’t have done alone. These partnerships are totally win-win. They’re really a personal pleasure as well.



Fundación Mapfre Lewis Hine exhibition page en español

Fundación Mapfre video: ‘Lewis Hine: la fotografía como documento social (Sesión I)’  en español

La Lettre de la Photographie article ‘Madrid: Retrospective Lewis Hine’

New York Times article ‘Lewis Hine: Photographer, Activist, Character’






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Rhubarb Rhubarb

Posted by on Aug 07 2009 | Photography

“Rhubarb” is British theatrical slang for the undistinguishable babble you might hear in a busy pub, but it

is also the name of the International Photographic Festival held annually in Birmingham, UK, from which I have just returned. There were lots of memorable exhibitions including Nadav Kander’s portrait series, Obama’s People, currently breaking all attendance records at the Birmingham Art Museum. The long weekend began with a lively debate titled “Photography is Dead.” The panel was ably chaired by Stephen Mayes, CEO of the VII photo agency in New York, and included, in addition to myself, Jon Levy, publisher of the London based magazine of photojournalism and documentary photography, Foto8; MaryAnn Camilleri of Magenta Publishing for the Arts, a Toronto-based foundation specializing in emerging Candian artists; John Cross of Peter Bailey Company photo agency; and photographer Brian Griffin. Conclusion? “Photography is dead.

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Long live photography.” and that technical matters can change everything about image capture except its cultural meaning and our desire to do it.

In Case it Rains in Heaven

The heart of this event is the international reviews: three days in which more than 30 curators, publishers, gallerists and critics representing ten different countries meet one-on-one with twelve artists a day to see and discuss new work. It’s a remarkable experience; the energy level is high, as is the quality of work. I thought our readers might like to see some of the variety of work that caught my eye.


Kurt Tong is a young British artist from Hong Kong who has photographed the marvelous paper objects representing such things as cars, fountain pens and ipods that are traditionally burned at Chinese funerals. He uses the simplest photographic style imagineable, but the theoretical implications of photographing simulacra are not lost on him or the viewer.

8_Camp Delta_Stool Cell12_Fomer Detainee Home_Garden
26_Camp 6_Unused Communal Area27_Former Detainee Home_Redacted Letter From Daughter

Edmund Clark is a well known British photojournalist who has just returned from Guantanamo. He documents both the prison and the navy base that supports it, giving us solid visual images by which to understand this dark and mysterious American place.


James Morris’s recent work in Iran is a study of both landscape and people, like Ed Clark, giving us a picture of a place we now barely know.

Portrait of Genius 1683-84Portrait of Genius 1629
Portrait of Genius 1620Portrait of Genius 1567

I loved Marko Dutka’s Portrait of Genius, photos of striking eighty-something artist’s model Daphne Self after self-portraits by Titian, Dürer, Rembrandt and others. Dutka’s comments on gender and power are brilliantly embedded in his strong and beautifully lit images.

As we concluded in our panel, photography is alive and well. I think anyone looking at these photographs would agree.

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If this is Thursday, it must be Warsaw

Posted by on Jun 11 2008 | Other

Alison NordstromMay is a difficult time to leave Rochester, but I seem to be getting my lilacs elsewhere this spring.

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When the academic year ends for the Photo Department at the end of April, I have the chance to get out a bit and see what?s going on in the rest of viagra uk the world. This year, three of the next generation’s leaders in photography combined efforts (and budgets) to get me all over Europe in a whirlwind ten day trip. My thanks to Bernd Fechner of Fotobild Berlin, Frits Gierstberg of the Netherlands Foto Museum (Rotterdam) and Krzytof Cantrowicz of Fotofestiwal Lodz for making the trip possible and for giving me so much to see and do.

I flew from Rochester to Berlin on May 7 to begin three days of portfolio review at Tempelhof Airport. The building, built in 1923 is a somewhat daunting example of fascist architecture and it’s still a working airport, though plans are to close it shortly, and Fotobild’s presence this year marked its next life as a cultural center. The reviews went well:

Lodz portfolio review

Lodz portfolio review

Berlin has become an international magnet for young artists and the city is full of talented and sophisticated photographers. At the Fotobild welcome dinner, held in Bernd’s typically spacious East Berlin flat, Renate Gruber, widow of seminal photographic figure Fritz Gruber, spoke fondly of Eastman House and of her long friendship with Eastman House Director Tony Bannon. While in Berlin, I was able to see most of the Contemporary Biennale and a huge Wolfgang Tillmans show at Museum Hamburger Bahnhof, a converted railway station. Like many contemporary photographic artists, Tillmans is much more about installation than about singular images and it helped me a lot to see this work as the artist had intended. I also managed a studio visit to Australian Nathalie Latham, currently in residence at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, a former hospital now home to international artists and their studios. Nathalie’s video piece Eating up Beijing was an important part of the photograph exhibition Vital Signs: Place at Eastman House in 2007. Her new work continues to explore our role as stewards of the environment and world cultural heritage.

I left Berlin quite late on the 12th, not looking forward to wrestling my already book-laden luggage on the late night train from Schipol to Rotterdam, but Frits picked me up-we are old friends from Oracle— and whisked me to a hotel on the Rotterdam docks. The Netherlands Foto Museum (NFM) has just moved there too, to a vast former warehouse space right on the water. I was there early the next morning and was inspired to see what they have accomplished; state-of-the-art storage for four million negatives and a million prints and albums, study areas, ambitious exhibition spaces, and a radical take on offices. There are none! Rather, the curators, archivists, and administrators arrive daily with their laptops and mobile phones and choose to sit in whatever room suits their plans; there are designated spaces for reading, computer use, telephone conversations, meetings of all sizes, and work with collections material.

Las Palmas

The building Las Palmas at the Kop van Zuid by night. 2007. Photo by: Benno Thoma

I commented on the wonderful natural light that filled most work spaces and was told it would be illegal in Holland to keep workers in

offices without windows. (sigh…) The exhibition I had come to see was Babies: Picturing the Ideal Human, a brilliant and wide ranging survey containing quite a lot of Eastman House material, including a Southworth and Hawes daguerreotype and Candace Bergen’s unforgettable Klan Baby. The curators, Hedy van Arp and Iris Sikking, and Frits and I discussed how we might make a similar show using mostly Eastman House photos for tour in the United States. We also talked about getting a Ryerson intern to NFM next year and how we might work together on their latest acquisition, over one million 19th- and early-20th century photographs and related records from the Rotterdam Ethnographic Museum. (It comes with a curator).

Next was train back to Schipol and a quick flight to Warsaw where I met up with Celina Lunsford from Fotografie Forum International in Frankfurt (founded by Eastman House trustee Manfred Heiting). Celina and I know each other from Houston and Rhubarb and it was pleasant to catch up on the three hour bus ride to Lodz. This biennial festival is part of Polish Month of Photography and features more than 50 exhibitions, nighttime projections a la Arles, publications, performances, and portfolio review. Krzystof and I were both part of Meeting Place Beijing in 2006 so I was delighted to see his theme this year was “made in China” and his major show featured many of the artists we had met then, including Feng Bin, whose Hutong at Night series was the surprise hit of our Vital Signs. Eastern Europe is booming artistically; Polish photographers are sophisticated and internationally aware. Our last night included a bus trip to Leczyca, a small town where a former prison had been taken over by artists for 40+ rooms of installation. Krzytof plans to spend several weeks with us next winter to increase his knowledge of American photography by studying our holdings and to complete a survey of Polish photographs in US collections. I look forward to welcoming him and reciprocating his hospitality. (Special thanks to Kristina Niedswieka who works in the Eastman House Cafe for her desperate attempts to teach me survival Polish).

I took the train from Lodz back to Berlin and I write this from Tegel Airport, (which is starting to feel like a second home) as I begin today’s journey back to Rochester via Paris and Boston. I carry back ten kilos (22 pounds) of books, artists’ CDs, and exhibition brochures, but also lists of artists to get to know better, and a strong sense that Eastman House is a vibrant and significant collaborator in photography’s international scene. I’m also realizing that I have seen world-class institutions, exhibitions, and installations housed in former hospitals, airports, prisons, factories, warehouses, train stations, and the like. Moribund industrial spaces have been given new life, purpose, and economic viability as centers for art and culture. I can’t help but feel this is food for thought and discussion in Rochester where our rich industrial and architectural heritage cries out for such inspired recycling.

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