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  • From Daguerreotypes to Digital Prints, Worcester Art Museum Exhibitions Spans History of Photography

    (WORCESTER, Mass., Aug. 23, 2004) - Celebrating the 100th anniversary of its first exhibition of photography, the Worcester Art Museum presents works from its permanent collection in a major show that illustrates the history of the medium, from mid-19th century daguerreotypes to digital images from NASA space probes.

    Photography at the Worcester Art Museum: Keeping Shadows will be on view at the Museum, 55 Salisbury St., from Oct. 10, 2004 through Jan. 2, 2005, before beginning a national tour. The public is invited to preview the exhibition at an opening celebration 7 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 9. Tickets are $15 Museum members, $25 nonmembers. For reservations, call 508.799.4406, extension 3105.

    One hundred select photographs from the Worcester Art Museum's collection represent innovators and masters of the medium, including Eadweard Muybridge, Timothy O'Sullivan, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, Man Ray, Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, Robert Frank, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Shirin Neshat. The exhibition also features the work of local contemporary photographers B.A. King, John O'Reilly and Robert ParkeHarrison, all who will speak at the Museum this fall.

    “This exhibition tells the story of photography through the remarkable examples in the collection of the Worcester Art Museum,” said David Acton, curator of prints, drawings, and photographs. “The Museum was one of the first in this country to begin building a permanent collection of photographs, which now includes over 4,000 objects. Though that number is relatively small, the Museum has always endeavored to collect works of the highest quality, and today we can trace much of the development and history of photography in these works.”

    In every aspect of the history of photography-from image-making to popularizing, collecting, studying, and exhibiting-Worcester has been at the forefront. This exhibition offers a rare look at photographic activity taking place in Worcester and throughout New England prior to 1900. In 1839, the Frenchman Jacques-Louis-Mandé Daguerre announced his groundbreaking photo-making technique, daguerreotype. Within a year, Worcester County inventor Daniel Davis used the process for some of the first daguerreotypes made in the United States. Within a decade, the booming industrial city of Worcester boasted its share of professional daguerreotypists. A rare full-plate daguerreotype view of Salisbury House, the home of Museum founder Stephen Salisbury III, provides an extraordinary glimpse of a recognizable local landmark.

    Amateur photography caught on early in Worcester. The Worcester Camera Club formed in 1885 and registered 60 members within four years. In 1904, the young Worcester Art Museum mounted its first Exhibition of Photographs, featuring 450 prints by predominantly local amateur photographers.

    “It was the Museum's founding trustees who first embraced the creative possibilities of photography,” said Worcester Art Museum Director James A. Welu. “They were men who presided over a booming industrial city at the turn of the century, a group that included technology-minded businessmen, physicians, and academic scientists. They inaugurated a series of exhibitions at the Worcester Art Museum that combined the amateur work of their neighbors with those of the finest creative photographers in the country, at a time when photography was only beginning its struggle for recognition as a legitimate art form.”

    In the early 20th century, Pictorialism gained popularity in America. Photographers working in this style conceived their images as works of art, often mimicking drawing and painting styles with soft-focus, special filters, and manipulation of the negatives. The Second Annual Exhibition of Photographs in 1905 included borrowed works from Alfred Stieglitz's Photo Secession group, photographers who focused on aesthetics. Today's exhibition at the Worcester Art Museum features Stieglitz's masterpiece The Steerage, and works by fellow Pictorialists F. Holland Day, Edward Steichen, Gertrude Käsebier, and Clarence H. White.

    In 1932, a new generation of photographers, including Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and Edward Weston, formed Group f/64 to counter Pictorialism. “f/64” refers to the smallest aperture opening on the camera, resulting in images of crystal clear focus. Group f/64 sought to gain recognition for photography, and its ability to capture fine detail, as an art in its own right and believed photographs need not replicate drawings and paintings. Examples of this style were featured in the exhibition mounted at the Worcester Art Museum in 1937, conceived to celebrate the centennial of Daguerre's first successful photograph and to survey photography's subsequent history.

    Along with aesthetic photographs, the collection also includes some of the most powerful works by photojournalists. Earliest among them are images of the Crimean War by Roger Fenton and Gustave Le Gray in the 1850s; there are also moving photographs of the American Civil War taken by Mathew Brady, Timothy O'Sullivan, and George Barnard. Other images of war include photographs by Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, and James H. Karales from World War II and Vietnam. By that time, the American appetite for documentary photography was surging, thanks to publications such as Life magazine. Historical events were presented with clear visuals to an eager public. Another, more sensational view of American life was presented by the tabloid photographer Arthur Fellig, known as Weegee, who captured on film the grit and glamour of New York City.

    Developments in photography dovetail achievements in science and technology, pushing boundaries to capture never-before-seen images. Many pioneering photographers were also physicists and engineers. Advancements in stop-action photography are illustrated by Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion series in 1887, and in the mid-20th century in Harold Edgerton's work in stroboscopic illumination and ultra-high-speed photography. At the turn of the 21st century, science provides rapid and profound changes to photography, completely transforming its fundamental technologies. Computer scientist Alexander Tsiaris uses data from MRI and CT scans to create astounding images of the human body, among them views of fetal development, such as Human Embryo, Forty-Four Days. A pair of NASA images in the exhibition demonstrates the strides made in space exploration. A 1967 compound photograph Crescent of the Moon, captured on film by an unmanned lunar orbiter, studied landing sites for man's first mission to the moon. A capstone of the exhibition is another NASA image, taken at the dawn of the new millennium, by the Cassini Space Probe. Now in a digital age, millions of dots and dashes stream into NASA computers exposing the moon Io as it orbits above the stunningly vivid and dramatic surface of planet Jupiter.

    The Worcester Art Museum was among the earliest to formalize its commitment to photography in 1962, when Director Daniel Catton Rich established a curatorial department for collecting, studying and exhibiting photography as fine art, organized by consultant Peter Pollack. In 1973, his associate, Stephen B. Jareckie became the Museum's first curator of photographs, presenting over 75 exhibitions and guiding the progressive growth of the collection. Acton, who organized this exhibition, succeeded Jareckie in 1995 and has continued to develop the photography program through acquisitions, exhibitions, and scholarship.

    A lavishly illustrated book, featuring 200 photographs from the Worcester Art Museum's collection, accompanies the exhibition. Available in the Museum Shop, the publication Photography at the Worcester Art Museum: Keeping Shadows is conceived to introduce the rich history of photography to a broad audience. The book includes essays by Acton and Jareckie as well as a glossary of technical and connoisseurship terms.

    For information on related programs, classes and workshops, visit the Museum's website at www.worcesterart.org or call 508.799.4406.

    The exhibition Photography at the Worcester Art Museum: Keeping Shadows is sponsored by FLEXcon Company, Inc. and National Grid. Additional generous support provided by the Heald Foundation, The Hall & Kate Peterson Fund, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

    About the Worcester Art Museum
    The Worcester Art Museum, which opened to the public in 1898, is world-renowned for its 35,000-piece collection of paintings, sculpture, decorative arts, photography, prints, drawings and new media. The works span 5,000 years of art and culture, ranging from ancient Roman mosaics to Colonial silver, Impressionist paintings and contemporary art. Dedicated to the promotion of art and art education, the Museum offers a year-round studio art and art appreciation program that enrolls over 6,000 adult and youth students each year. Public tours are offered Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m., September through May. Audio tours are also available in English and Spanish.

    Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (evening hours sponsored by Commerce Bank), and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and full-time college students with current ID, and FREE for Members and all youth 17 and under. Admission is also FREE for everyone on Saturday mornings, 10 a.m.-noon (sponsored by The TJX Companies, Inc. and Massachusetts Electric, a National Grid Company). The Museum is located at 55 Salisbury St., Worcester, Mass., easily accessible from the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), Route 290 and Route 9. Free parking is available near entrances on Salisbury, Lancaster and Tuckerman streets. For more information, call (508) 799-4406.