Reminiscence in 19th Century Photography

13 may—2 jul 2011


“We are only beginning to assess early photography’s profound impact on the Victorian view of the world and to describe its locus in an art historical context.”
Quote from Robert Hershkowitz, The British Photographer Abroad, 1980.
This exhibition explores the role of reminiscence in the artworks of several noted historical authors: Maxime Du Camp, Charles Nègre, James Anderson, Eugène Constant and Giacomo Caneva, amongst others. The exhibition engages with a particlar and crucial moment in the 19th century in which notions of technological development and the speed at which society was moving lead many artists to seek – through photographic image-making, and in contrast to the culture of the time – a sense of calm nostalgia in their photographing which revealed a stasis and beauty inherent in images with often idealistic or Romantic pictorial values. While society was moving forward, these image-makers were calmly setting up early camera technologies and capturing images that quite uniquely looked back to history; its buildings and landscapes; the relationship between the traces of human civilisation and nature itself.

This form of early art-photography held central to its ideal a sort of reminscence, a ‘Rückblick’ (retrospective view): a nostalgia both for history (Du Camps’ images of Abu Simbel, Constant’s Tempio di Vesta in Rome) and the documenting of the beauty and romance in form; both in the sense of the female form (the anonymous 1870 image of a beautiful naked woman strewn across a chaise longues) and in the curving form of the natural and architectural landscape (Pyne’s Landscape (1855) and Nègre’s Asile Impérial de Vicelles of 1859/9). This was the great era of photographic exploration, as an art form, and in a mode which both harked back to the architectural icons of past cultures, whilst capturing slowly and calmly, a moment in the history of humanity that, paradoxically, was both fast and highly-pressured.
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