Archive for the 'Exhibitions' Category

What Does Identity Mean?

Posted by on Aug 27 2014 | Behind The Scenes, Exhibitions, Exploring the Archive, History, Other, Photography

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose — by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare wrote these lines for Juliet to speak in the play “Romeo and Juliet” and the question they pose is sometimes relevant to the cataloguing of a photograph.

Images such as “Migrant Mother,” “Powerhouse Mechanic,” and “Afghan Refugee Girl” are familiar to us by these acquired names, sometimes merely descriptive, sometimes alliterative and even poetic ones.

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895 - 1965). Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936, printed ca. 1973. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Gift of Robert J. Doherty.

Dorothea Lange (American, 1895 – 1965). Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California, 1936, printed ca. 1973. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Gift of Robert J. Doherty.

But it is also human nature to want to look behind the curtain, to know the narrative behind the iconic image, “just the facts, Ma’am” (as Sgt. Friday on the TV show Dragnet would say), the who, what, when and where of that image.

In the past year or so, new information about the identity of a solemn, bearded man in a brimmed hat in a Lewis Hine photograph has brought both clarity and resolution as well as prompting some consideration about the significance of a title and of inscriptions and the overall meaning and impact of certain historical photographs.

The portrait, now titled by Eastman House “A Yemenite Jew from Palestine” and dated 1926 in the exhibition Lewis Hine-from the Collections of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film was the springboard of these discussions. The image is a powerful one and like the familiar saying it “speaks a thousand words.”

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874 - 1940), A Yemenite Jew from Palestine, 1926. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Transfer from Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee; ex-collection of Corydon Hine.

Lewis W. Hine (American, 1874 – 1940), A Yemenite Jew from Palestine, 1926. Gelatin silver print. George Eastman House. Transfer from Photo League Lewis Hine Memorial Committee; ex-collection of Corydon Hine.

In the case of this man’s portrait however, this road led to conflicting pieces of information for the cataloguer, creating, for a time, more confusion than clarity.

In 1901, Hine was one of several mid-westerners that progressive educator Frank Manny brought with him when he took over the position as supervisor of the Ethical Culture School in New York City. Hine began to photograph at Ellis Island in 1905 and wanted his pupils “[to] have the same regard for contemporary immigrants as they have for the Pilgrim who landed at Plymouth.”

As former Eastman House curator Alison Nordstrom tells us, “he was not on assignment in those years and he did not expect to make a living at it. His photographs were not “mug shots,” he strove to enoble-and not to accuse. He established a connection with his subjects and wanted the resulting images to tell their stories.”

We also know that in response to the new US government imposition of immigrant quotas, he returned to Ellis Island to make the same kind of portraits of new-arrivals in 1926.

The Eastman House’s Lewis Hine archive contains over 7000 photographs and 4000 negatives, along with manuscript and other materials and is generally acknowledged to be the most comprehensive collection of his work in the world. However, one should not be surprised that his work is widely represented in other museum collections and at historical sites, including the New York Public Library, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the University of Maryland and other places. Photography is, after all, a reproductive and a disseminating medium, and one negative can yield up many prints. What gives significance and value to most photographs is not that it is the only one, but that it is a vintage one, made by the photographer himself or under his close supervision, around the time the negative was exposed. And, not incidentally, a good print in fine condition will be valued over a poor one.

There are 2 small negatives of the bearded man at Ellis Island in the Eastman House Collection, each taken from a slightly different angle, probably moments apart. There are also 2 vintage photographs that correspond to each of these negatives.

This particular image is generally known through past exhibitions and their catalogues by the title “Armenian Jew, Ellis Island” and is sometimes dated 1905 and sometimes as 1926. An enlarged image in the second floor Great Hall at the Ellis Island National Monument bears the evocative caption, “Armenian Jew, Ellis Island” 1926, followed by: “This Armenian Jew probably left his native land to escape the Turkish persecution of the post-war period.”

Eastman House cataloguers were contacted in April 2010 by a visitor to Ellis Island, a man with an interest in Turkish history, who questioned this caption information on multiple fronts and argued dispassionately and persuasively that all of these facts could not be right at the same instance: nationality, religious affiliation, date, and historical events in the sequence and timing of last years of the Ottoman Empire.

The information written on the 4 portraits of this man by Hine in the Eastman House did little to resolve the issue and his concerns, since the information Hine had written on the prints was indeed “Armenian Jew Emigrant at Ellis Island 1926” but in contrast, he had written on the envelopes containing the negatives “Syrian Jewish Immigrant, Photograph by Lewis W. Hine, Ellis Island, 1905” With 2 nationalities and 2 dates, one is left with 4 distinct possibilities for the title. We knew from experience with Hine’s conflicting notations on the material at Eastman House that this was not unusual: The same portrait of an elderly woman could be identified as “Slovakian Grandmother”, “Jewish Grandmother” or “Polish Grandmother for instance and all could be variously dated from his two forays into Ellis Island. Hine did not recorded the identity of the subjects he photographed, although in some cases (as with children working in factories), he noted their height or other physical attributes.

The question of the identity of the portrait of the bearded man was raised again from a different source in late 2013. A family from New York City who had long believed that the Ellis Island enlargement was a relative (and even posed under it for snapshots), decided to come forward after seeing the image used in a review of the Eastman House exhibit on Lewis Hine at the International Center of Photography, published in the Wall Street Journal. The Goldzweig family contacted the newspaper and one of the staff writers, Angela Chen recognized a good story and took on the project.

Naomi and Yitzchak Goldzweig seated, with Ariella, far left, and Mazal Goldzweig, look at photos and information about their loved one Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal.

Goldzweig family look at photos and information about their loved one. Photo credit: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal.

Cataloguing staff were naturally cautious. An identification made on a resemblance alone is often a subjective judgment and people often disagree, perhaps especially when the stakes are high (think… a portrait that “looks like” Abraham Lincoln). But in the end, all of the information provided by the family lined up nicely, and the “mug shot” (in this case) on a May 6, 1926 “Document of Identity to an Applicant who cannot obtain a National Passport” was compelling.

His passport picture. Photo credit: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal

His passport picture. Photo credit: Adrienne Grunwald for The Wall Street Journal

So, much was gained through this communication. The bearded man was Rabbi Shalom Haim Nadoff. He was the son of Rabbi Meir Elnadaf of Jerusalem and his wife Bedur who had immigrated to Palestine from Yemen around the time of his birth in 1901. His family had produced generations of Torah scholars, some of whom had worked to preserve Yemenite Torah and religious works and heritage during the early waves of immigration to Palestine.

He was trained in the customary Yemenite order of Torah study before pursuing advanced studies at Yeshivat Etz Chayim in Jerusalem, with its emphasis on the analytical methods of the Eastern European yeshivot. He was ordained there in 1922.

He was also a graduate of Bezalel Art Institute in Jerusalem where he trained as a silversmith. He was an accomplished designer and craftsman of jewelry and religious articles, who exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembly, England in 1925.

Hine had noticed and photographed an educated young married man, an ordained Rabbi and a graduate of a prestigious school for craftsman. One might add that Rabbi Nadoff exhibited his works in silver at the Sesqui-Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1926. He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1933. He and his wife Mazal Sofer Nadoff and their five children initially resided in Brooklyn, New York before moving to Chicago, Illinois where in 1933, he displayed his work at the Century of Progress Exhibition. In Chicago, he established himself as the senior rabbi of the Sephardic Congregation of the Portuguese Israelite Fraternity, where he served for the next forty years. During this period, the congregation grew to include Sephardim of Middle Eastern and Northern African extraction, in addition to the original Spanish-Portuguese constituency. Although of Yemenite heritage, he was familiar with Sephardic and Ashkenazic culture and practice. He did not favor Yiddish and conversed only in Hebrew, English and Arabic. He was also able to use some Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) with his congregation.

He was a dedicated proponent of the establishment of a Jewish State and in 1974, he and his wife became residents of Bayit VeGan in Jerusalem, where they lived for the rest of their lives. He died there in 1986, four months after the death of his wife.

All of this information is now in the catalogue record of the Eastman House Data Management System.

However, as noted above, the title of the photograph is “A Yemenite Jew from Palestine” rather than the name of this man. The cataloguer’s reasoning was that this was also Lewis Hine’s photograph and the photographer was taking these images not as “mug shots” as stated above, not even as individual portraits (though he surely sought out an evocative face), but really to “ give a face” to the experience of an Immigrant to America in 1926.

The conflicting captions needed to be resolved, of course, as well as the misleading narrative used in the Ellis Island Caption. Both of the correspondents, the man with interest in Turkish history and the family of Rabbi Nadoff expressed satisfaction over these decisions. This information was shared with both the New York Public Library and the Ellis Island site. The Wall Street Journal published Angela Chen’s article, illustrated with photos of the Goldzweig family and using quotes from Eastman House on December 15, 2013 under the heading ”Rightly Identified – At Last.”

As a final note, the world was intrigued by the National Geographic documentary when photographer Steve McCurry returned to Afgahnistan after the removal of the Taliban government by American troops and local allies in 2001. He eventually located the subject of his compelling photograph, Sharbat Gula, then around the age of 30. Nevertheless, the photograph itself will probably never be known as “Sharbat Gula.” Like other iconic images, it stands for our collective, human identity, which in the best cases, transcends the identity of an individual.

Steve McCurry (American, b. 1950). Afghan Refugee Girl, ca. 1985, printed later. Chromogenic development print. George Eastman House. Courtesy Steve McCurry. © Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry (American, b. 1950). Afghan Refugee Girl, ca. 1985, printed later. Chromogenic development print. George Eastman House. Courtesy Steve McCurry. © Steve McCurry



 
The exhibition Lewis Hine is on view though September 7, 2014 George Eastman House. This major retrospective of the celebrated documentary photographer, reformer, and educator features more than 150 original prints dating from 1905 to 1937, including “A Yemenite Jew from Palestine.”

 

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Eastman House celebrates 20 years of Dutch Connection

Posted by on Feb 21 2014 | Exhibitions, History, House & Gardens, Other

For the last 20 years, in February, George Eastman House has organized the Dutch Connection to show the kind of flowers George Eastman enjoyed in his home from late fall to early spring. Although there is no record of his bulb order for 1913/1914, historic records indicate that Mr. Eastman typically ordered varieties of each plant included in this exhibition—tulip, daffodil, hyacinth, and amaryllis bulbs; freesia corms; and clivia, begonia, campanula, hellebore, primrose, and azalea. Because this two-week exhibition includes the total number of plants that Mr. Eastman would order for display over a five-month period, you are enjoying approximately ten times the number of blooms that Mr. Eastman would have displayed at one time.

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In July, 2013, nearly 6,000 bulbs were ordered. The bulbs were shipped in late September and volunteers and staff potted the tulips, daffodils and hyacinth. These pots were then placed in a dark, cool root cellar in Highland Park. Tulips, daffodils and hyacinth require a 12 to 15 week 40 to 45 °F cool, dark period, much like they get when planted in the garden. The potted bulbs that were in the root cellar were moved into the greenhouse in January. In the greenhouse, the bulbs require 2 to 7 weeks, depending on variety, at 55 to 65 °F. with full sunlight to flower. The bulbs were forced into bloom at Lucas Greenhouses, Fairport, NY. The freesias and amaryllis were grown in the Palm House until they could be moved to the greenhouse in January. The azaleas, hellebores, clivia, primrose, campanula, and begonias are grown on site or purchased from a wholesaler.

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The exhibition opened on Valentine’s Day and will close on Sunday, March 2. At any one time there are over 3,000 blooms in the exhibition. The tulip, daffodil, and hyacinth blooms last only a week in the relatively warm, dry, Conservatory environment, and are replaced once during the exhibition. The azaleas, hellebores, freesias, amaryllis, clivia, begonias, campanula, and primrose bloom two weeks or longer.

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How photographs have presented gender over time

Posted by on Jul 10 2013 | Exhibitions, Photography

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The Gender Show Opens

Posted by on Jun 12 2013 | Exhibitions, Photography

HILLER

LEJAREN À HILLER (1950) Naval officer and young man on hillside with binoculars, overlooking battleship in bay below Color print, assembly (Carbro) process © Visual Studies Workshop / Image courtesy of George Eastman House International Museum of Photography & Film

Director’s Note – Since before Marcel Duchamp photographed Rrose Sélavy, his female alter ego, artists have used photography to explore issues of identity, sex, and gender. In recent decades, gender has been an increasingly prominent theme within contemporary art and, specifically, within photography. The Gender Show (on view through October 13) offers an extraordinary opportunity to see fifty contemporary artworks in the context of over 150 photographs from our worldclass collection.

The exhibition includes, on loan from artists and private collectors, a formidable set of photographs by prominent contemporary artists Janine Antoni (born 1964), Rineke Dijkstra (1959), Marilyn Minter (1948), Catherine Opie (1961), and Gillian Wearing (1963). Works by each of these artists have been exhibited extensively at leading museums, but this is the first time that any of their works has been shown at Eastman House.

Debbie Grossman (American, b. 1977) Jessie Evans-Whinery, homesteader, with her wife Edith Evans-Whinery and their baby 2010 From the series My Pie Town Archival pigment print ©Debbie Grossman, Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York

The exhibition also includes ten photographs on loan from our trustee Elaine Goldman; gender issues are one of the themes in her wonderful collection. Also featured are videos by artists Jen DeNike (1971), Kalup Linzy (1977), and Martha Rosler (1943). In our Annex Gallery, we present sixteen photographs, on loan from artist Debbie Grossman (1977), from her recent My Pie Town series, in which she used Photoshop to manipulate a set of images of Pie Town, New Mexico, originally taken by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration in 1940.

The Gender Show, part of our ongoing program of major exhibitions from our permanent collection, is a survey of how photographs since the mid-nineteenth century have presented gender, with a special emphasis on the performances that the act of photographing or being photographed can encourage or capture. On view from our collection are photographs by many of the biggest names in the history of the medium—including Julia Margaret Cameron, August Sander, Edward Steichen, Nickolas Muray, Brassaï, Robert Frank, Andy Warhol, Barbara Norfleet, Mary Ellen Mark, and Cindy Sherman—as well as rarely seen cabinet cards depicting early vaudeville and music-hall stars.

thegendershow

In 1979, art scholar and critic Douglas Crimp (now the Fanny Knapp Allen Professor of Art History at the University of Rochester) included photographer Cindy Sherman among the emerging artists covered in his article “Pictures” in the influential art journal October. This article was a landmark in the contemporary art world’s embrace of photography as an artistic medium. In the ensuing years, young artists increasingly adopted photography as part of their artistic practice. Unfortunately, there has been an abiding separation between “contemporary photographers” and “contemporary artists” whose artistic practice is primarily or in part in the medium of photography. This artificial segregation has had a long-term adverse impact on exhibition programs and collection building at every one of the American museums with a leading photography collection, including George Eastman House. Our exhibition places works by contemporary artists in a broader context, illuminating art historical, aesthetic, and social issues and celebrating the diversity of inquiries into gender.

The first exhibition organized under my direction, The Gender Show represents a commitment by George Eastman House to exhibit and collect photographs by those in the contemporary art world. Photography is one of the most important media in contemporary art. Our world-class collection of photographs must include great examples of work by contemporary artists. The core exhibition of works from our permanent collection is curated by Senior Curator Alison Nordström and Assistant Curator Jessica Johnston. Additionally, Jessica chose the photographs kindly lent by Elaine Goldman. I had the pleasure of selecting the other contemporary artworks from outside of our collection. We hope that you enjoy the results of our collaboration.

More works from The Gender Show can be viewed on Artsy.

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Eastman House and Google Art Project

Posted by on Apr 03 2013 | Exhibitions, Photography, Technology

update

Eastman House is now on the Google Art Project!

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The initial group of 50 photographs on Google Art Project spans the 1840s through the late 20th century and a wide variety of photographic processes from the 174 years of the medium’s existence are represented. The variety of subjects featured include Frida Kahlo, Martin Luther King Jr., the first train wreck ever photographed, the Lincoln conspirators, the Egyptian pyramids and Sphinx in the 1850s, and a portrait of photo pioneer Daguerre.

The list of the masters include William Henry Fox Talbot, Hill & Adamson, Southworth & Hawes, Timothy O’Sullivan, Mathew Brady, Julia Margaret Cameron, Eadweard Muybridge, William Henry Jackson, Edward S. Curtis, Gertrude Kasebier, Eugene Atget, Alfred Stieglitz, Lewis W. Hine, Dorothea Lange, Nickolas Muray, and Benedict J. Fernandez. We will continually add works to the project throughout the year.

Our partnership with Google is an exciting endeavor and truly opens the door to the contents within our photography vault, with a reach unlike ever before. The online exhibition experience allows for high resolution and high level research with otherwise unseen objects.

UPDATE
More info here and here via mashable

We have also worked with Google to be a part of its Google Maps Street View project. Later this year, 360-degree views of the museum’s gardens, grounds, historic house, and vaults will be available.

 

If you haven’t yet had a chance to watch our latest video about the museum, here it is:

 

 

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