Archive for the 'Exhibitions' Category

Between The States: Photographs of the American Civil War

Posted by on Apr 12 2011 | Exhibitions, History, Other, Photography

On April 12, 1861, at 4:30 am, Confederate forces attacked the US military installation at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. At the time, Fort Sumter was under construction and the Union troops inside were short of provisions. While this date is used as the beginning of the war, the events had already been set in motion by the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States in November 1860 and by the secession of seven states from the United States to the Confederate States of America.


Unidentified Photographer

Unidentified Photographer


The tale of the American Civil War has been told thousands of times. Historians,
both academic and amateur, have delved into the past to understand just how
the Confederate States of America decided to secede from the Union to form an
independent country, and how, in response, the Union eventually quashed their
attempts. Our current exhibition considers photography and its relationship to the War Between the States.
The George Eastman House collection holds over 1,100 photographs related to
the civil war, a modest number in relation to national standards. The strengths of this collection are some unique items, including a series of photographs found in a United States Postal Service dead letter office, several portraits of Confederate officers aboard the C.S.S. Alabama, and an album assembled to commemorate the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. In addition, items such as Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War provide extensive holdings of war-related scenes and landscapes.
It is estimated that over 620,000 soldiers died during the American Civil War
along with countless civilians. This remains the highest number of deaths for
American soldiers in any war. Photography played an important role in bringing this sobering reality to the public as, for the first time in history, photographers
showed the dead that remained on battlefields, and publishers had the ability to
reproduce these images in quantity. In addition, images showing the destruction
of cities, new American heroes, and arsenals of troops filled the pages of popular
journals such as Harper’s Weekly and Humphrey’s Journal.
Photography was still in the early stages of its invention. Therefore, many photographers were new to their craft and as the war raged on, photographic supplies were sometimes expensive and hard to come by. In addition, the existing processes could not capture the chaos of battle, with the cannons flaring and men fighting in combat.
Now at the sesquicentennial of these events, the stillness of what remains in these photographed scenes resonates in American minds. Destruction, struggle, and loneliness are evoked by the haunting, empty scenes, but we may also perceive an impression of valor in a young face, a sense of patriotism for a chosen side, a feeling of dignity in the face of death.



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Cameras my grandfather showed me: Nostalgia at Eastman House

Posted by on Mar 21 2011 | Exhibitions, Other

From folding cameras to Brownies, antique cameras have been displayed for my viewing since my birth. My grandfather’s house introduced me to the history of the camera as well as early photographs of my family’s American heritage.

My grandfather along with his father, like many other Rochesterian men, worked for the Eastman Kodak Company. Throughout my grandfather’s time working at Kodak and exploring his photographic hobby, he collected an array of classic cameras. Each room in his house has several cameras resting on dressers, antique china cabinets, wooden tripods, and any other flat surface providing a home for a piece of his vintage collection. Antiquated photographs as well as stereographs can be seen accompanying the cameras that took them.

While walking through George Eastman House’s new exhibition, Between the States: Photographs of the American Civil War, nostalgia overcame me. Hanging a right after entering the exhibit doors and coming around the first wall brings you “front and center” with two authentic cameras used to shoot American Civil War photography. Just as in my grandfather’s house, I was brought face to face with pieces of photographic history.

The 1864 stereo camera owned by the M.B. Brady Studio, now in the collections of George Eastman House and now on exhibit.

One of the cameras in the exhibit, along with another on loan to the Newseum in Washington, D.C., were used by the studio of Mathew Brady, the prolific Civil War photographer. They are the only two known Brady cameras in existence today. These, along with the Lewis wet-plate camera also on view in the Eastman House exhibition, are held exclusively in George Eastman House archives.

Brady’s stereo camera was acquired by George Eastman House from Graflex Inc. and was found in Auburn, N.Y., amidst a collection of Brady’s glass plates. This camera was used to produce a pair of 4½ x 4½-inch images. The images would be separated, cropped and mounted together side by side. Looking at the two images through a stereographic viewer would produce a seemingly three-dimensional image.

Grandpa also has a couple of stereographs lying around his house. I remember my amazement looking through a pair of stereograph glasses resembling 19th-century bifocals and viewing the two images combined to make one with depth and length. You can sense this awe two feet away from the two cameras as George Eastman House has provided a Brady stereotype and a beautiful viewer constructed by a student of the graduate program.

The Lewis wet-plate camera, 1862, is typical of Civil War-vintage studio equipment (George Eastman House collections).

Also gracing the glass case in the Between the States exhibition is a Lewis wet-plate camera. The Polaroid Corporation gifted this aged artifact to Eastman House. The camera, manufactured by Henry James Lewis, was conventional of Civil War photographic equipment. It also produced two images, although these were 3¼ x 4½-inch. This wet-plate camera closely resembles the daguerreotype camera, which Lewis’s father and brother had previously produced. This camera provides a perfect representation of the size and style of camera that had to be lugged around on the bloody battlefields of the Civil War.

This exhibition is important to Rochester and the history of American photography. I was fortunate to have my grandfather introduce me to historic cameras at an early age. We, as citizens of Rochester, are innately enriched with photographic history. We hold here, in our own backyard, images of a war that has shaped our nation to this very day. This is evident in the accompanying exhibit Still Here: Contemporary Artists and the Civil War.

The opportunity to view the apparatus by which these images were captured is exclusive to Rochester and George Eastman House, where you can experience the amazement and power these cameras display.


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Baby Love

Posted by on Oct 08 2010 | Exhibitions, Photography

As we enter the last month of our Colorama exhibition at the Museum, we’d like to share some of the stories people have sent us about their own connection to these images— and the times they captured (and manufactured) of a by-gone era. Over the next four weeks, we’ll be blogging some of our favorites entries to close out the exhibit. This one comes from Dr. Suzi Campanaro, daughter of the photographer:

The Baby Picture Colorama will always be my favorite!

No matter what’s going around you, no matter what life issues you’re dealing with, no matter what mood you’re in …the baby picture MAKES you stop and smile!

So proud that my nephew Evan was one of the adorable models in the picture!(28 years ago!)
Even more proud that my father Sam Campanaro snapped the infamous shot!
He was and always will be an inspiration to the lives he touched through the years with his pictures!

Thank you to the Eastman House for letting the public enjoy all the coloramas again.
Congratulations to all the models and photographers for making us smile!

…and this one from VickiJo Claire:

What a wonderful experience to be part of the famous baby picture. We still try to keep track of those beautiful babies who are 26 years old this year. My how time flies. I can’t believe that that picture is still up and in circulation making many people smile in nurseries , bus stations , doctors offices, and gift shops around the world.   Thank you Sam…. , Dad, Peeps( as his many grandchildren call him )…. We love you!

…and finally, from ‘proud dad’, Barry Fitzgerald:

It is with fond memory that I look back on the day that my daughter Christine was selected to be one of the “Kodak Kids” back in the 80′s shortly after she arrived in  our home from Korea.. Although I am sure the photography time at Kodak Office was more then a little trying for my wife while they tried to get the  infants to hold still for that one picture and others to come but the outcome was well worth the effort as she and I  took a great deal of pride in not only seeing the picture with our daughter in it but hearing about it from our friends and strangers as it gave us a chance to brag about our little girl to who ever would listen.Sam Campanaro was the photographer . He was a true gentlemen who always spoke fondly of his kids even years later  and remembered then all name . I had the picture hanging in my office at Kodak for 30+ years and it never stopped getting positive comments. Christine is an attorney now in California who has continued to make me proud of her now just as she did in each photo session when she was little .

Don’t forget to check out our Colorama Story Facebook page for videos of the Colorama photographers, models, and friends sharing their memories (coming Sept. 24th), to browse images from the exhibition, and to post your own story.

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Thanks for the (Colorama) Memories…

Posted by on Sep 17 2010 | Exhibitions, Photography

Colorama #553 on disaply in Grand Central Terminal from August 15-September 22, 1988. Photogrpahy by Norm Kerr.

As we enter the last month of our Colorama exhibition at the Museum, we’d like to share some of the stories people have sent us about their own connection to these images— and the times they captured (and manufactured) of a by-gone era. Over the next four weeks, we’ll be blogging some of our favorites entries to close out the exhibit. Our first is from David Spiro, Director of Public Relations and Development of Rochester’s Blackfriars Theatre:

While I have been living here in Rochester for the past eleven years, I am Brooklyn born, Bronx raised, and Grand Central Terminal (GCT) is without a doubt still my favorite building in NYC, hands down. I spent many a time passing through the building for one purpose or another, and every time I go home to visit my family (my mother still lives in the Bronx neighborhood where I was raised) I always try to take the time to go into Manhattan to soak in the energy that only it can offer, visit some of my favorite eateries, and of course take the time to walk through GCT. The Colorama is very much an important part of my memories.

I think the thing that stands out most is the summer of 1979. My aunt was able to get me a summer job working at the property tax office in Brooklyn, repossessing little old ladies houses. (Okay, no I didn’t really do that, as I was just doing basic clerical work.) Most of the time, I took the #6 train from Pelham Bay station in the Bronx, and changed at Grand Central Station for the #4 into Brooklyn. (It’s important to note that “Grand Central Station” refers to the subway station, While GCT refers to the actual terminal above it. )

Once or twice a week however, I would take the express bus from my Bronx neighborhood into Manhattan, get off at the 42nd Street and 5th Avenue stop, and then walk the few blocks to Grand Central to hop the #4. Coming into GCT via the 42nd Street entrance, with the Park Ave. viaduct overhead was my favorite approach. It led you directly to the main concourse area of the terminal where you could look up at the magnificent ceiling with the constellations in their gold painted glory overhead. There was the famous GCT clock, the main meeting place for so many people, as well as it’s information booth below it, guiding customers to their proper Metro-North train, and during that time, to their Amtrak train.

If you looked to the right, there it was: The Colorama. If it wasn’t the biggest picture in the world, it sure should have been. The pictures would vary every few weeks, from nature, to cityscapes, to people, but the thrill was always wondering what would come next? I always had to pass underneath it to get to the part of the subway platform I need be at, and always marveled at it, wondering how they were able to blow a picture up that enormously? It was also, as its name suggest, bathed in the most glorious saturation of color. One always saw tourists gawking in amazement, and taking pictures of a picture.

While the restoration of GCT was very welcome as it opened up the main concourse to more natural light, the removal of the Colorama (as well as the old clapboard flip-style train arrival/departure board) was a sad event. To hear that it is being donated to the Eastman House was joyous to read, and here’s hoping it goes on prominent display. You can be sure that this Bronx boy will be among the first on line to see it.

Don’t forget to check out our Colorama Story Facebook page for videos of the Colorama photographers, models, and friends sharing their memories (coming Sept. 24th), to browse images from the exhibition, and to post your own story.

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‘Art/Not Art’ showcases What We’re Collecting Now

Posted by on Aug 18 2010 | Exhibitions, Photography, Student Work

Every year a small group of students in the spring semester of their second year of the Photographic Preservation and Collections Management (PPCM) program come together to curate a show of recent acquisitions at George Eastman House. This show is designed to illustrate the ways in which the George Eastman House collection is a “living” entity. How we interpret the mission of the museum, to tell the story of photography and motion pictures — “media that have changed and continue to change our perception of the world” — results in the acquisition of new objects that can reinforce strengths of the collection, or suggests new ways of interpreting items already in the collection.

PPCM students discuss sequencing pieces in the exhibition

As students studying the history of photography, we were interested in photographs that are slippery, that change meaning depending on where the image is first encountered or how it is presented. We are lucky at George Eastman House that we collect a large range of photographs, art and otherwise, that have had a multitude of meanings throughout their existence before entering our collection. Our title, Art/Not Art, refers to the polarizing question we often ask of photographs, is it art or is it not?

Many of the photographs shown in Art/Not Art are art photographs, according to our utilitarian definition of the term, as they were they bought, sold, exhibited, and written about as art. However, this contextual information is not immediately apparent when standing before these photographs. The diversity of practice in contemporary art photography is well represented in the exhibition—the four photographs from Elijah Gowin’s “Of Falling and Floating” series looks radically different from Robert and Sheena ParkeHarrison’s “Suspension,” which in turn bears little in common with Binh Danh’s contemporary daguerreotype, a portrait from the Tuol Seng Genocide Museum.

Robert and Sheena ParkeHarrison, SUSPENSION, From the Series: Earth Elegies, ca. 1999-2000

Perhaps Binh Danh’s daguerreotype should then be compared to Ron Haviv’s “Darfur Girl,” a large-scale chromogenic print depicting three girls searching for firewood near a displaced persons camp in Sudan. In the summer of 2005, UNICEF sponsored Haviv to document the conflict in Darfur’s effect on children. While the composition and the scale suggest that this piece is contemporary art photography, does the use of this image to raise funds for UNICEF mean that it cannot be considered art? And, if Binh Danh’s daguerreotype is art, does that label limit its ability to document genocide?

Ron Haviv, DARFUR GIRL 2005.

Many of the photographs shown in the exhibition have been published in different places, for reasons that are not obvious when looking at the photographs. Joel-Peter Witkin’s series, “A History of Hats in Art,” was initially printed in The New York Times Magazine as a series of fashion photographs featuring extravagant haute-couture headwear. Alex Webb’s “US/Mexico Border (San Ysidro, CA)” was printed in Harper’s Magazine on an article on illegal immigration published roughly fifteen years after the photograph was taken. E.J. Bellocq’s photographs are more mysterious. Bellocq, a commercial photographer from New Orleans in the early twentieth century, took a series of photographs of women from the city’s Storyville red light district. His negatives were discovered after his death, and purchased by Lee Friedlander who printed his images and popularized them as art objects in the 1970s.

This was the first show that many of us have curated, and our approach to the photographs is typical of the questions that we often ask ourselves as future professionals in our field. Given the care and attention that we must provide to each individual item that enters our collection—a process that includes accessioning the item, assessing its condition and recommending conservation work when required, housing the item according to archival standards, cataloguing the item into our electronic database, providing access to the public via the research archives and through exhibitions, and, finally, maintaining it in perpetuity in our ever-shrinking vault—the acquisition process is very rigorous, and very important. So, how best to show the diversity of material that eventually makes it into our collection?

As much as any lovers of photography, we were moved by how stunning some of the items collected in the past five years are. As students of photography, we were also interested in how slippery some of the meanings of the photographs were over time, and in different contexts. The range of aesthetics in art photography, and the different applications of photography, whether for fashion, photojournalism, or for more personal reasons, suggests the impossibility of just looking at a photograph to determine if it is art, or not art.

As future custodians of collections of photography, we encourage an approach to photography that understands the rare slipperiness of the medium of photography, where images and objects often have unknown and unexpected trajectories before they come to our attention as candidates for acquisitions.

What We’re Collecting Now: Art/Not Art was curated by Jami Guthrie, Emily McKibbon, Loreto Pinochet, Paul Sergeant, D’Arcy White, and Soohyun Yang. The exhibit is on view through October 24th.

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