Apparitions: the photograph and its image

This week the Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University (Wellington) opened the exhibition Apparitions: the photograph and its image (14 October – 17 December 2017). Curated by Geoffrey Batchen and Victoria University art history honours students, the exhibition considers the reproducibility and circulation of photographic images during the early years of the medium. What you see on display in Apparitions is a diffuse reading of the photograph through the 19th century, largely through engraving and lithographs produced after a photographic source.

The first objects you seen in the exhibition are a series of 19th century copies of the Portland Vase by Josiah Wedgwood and Sons Ltd. It’s a clever conceit. Thomas Wedgwood (1771-1805), one of Josiah’s four sons, was an early pioneer of photography and his father’s efforts to copy the famed object demonstrate the industry and commerce that was similarly involved in the development of photography.

One of the key works in Apparitions is Noël Marie Paymal Lerebours’ publication Excursions daguerriennes: vues et monuments les plus remarquables du globe (1841-1864). Lerebours (1807-1873) was a Parisian optician involved in popularising the daguerreotype technique, reproducing images of monuments and landscapes from around the world made using this new technology. The unique nature of each daguerreotype image made them unsuitable for easy or large scale reproduction so Lerebours’ developed a technique of tracing the image from a daguerreotype onto paper for transfer to an engraving plate. Soliciting images from daguerreotypists, Lerebours was able to promote the exciting new view of the world captured by this new photographic technology in numerous volumes of the Excursions daguerriennes.

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Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet, ‘Beirut’ (1840), from ‘Excursions daguerriennes’

One photograph from my own collection was included in Apparitions, a 1840 view of Beirut by Frédéric Goupil-Fesquet (1806-1893) and appears in Excursions daguerriennes. This photograph is notable for several reasons. It is recognised as the first photograph to document Beirut and is one of the few photographs published by Lerebours to acknowledge the photographer as a author of the image.

Being so far removed from the localities of 19th photographic innovation, New Zealand is a difficult place in which to mount such an exhibition. However, loans from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the National Library of New Zealand and Auckland Museum illustrate there is a surprising depth to New Zealand’s photography collecting. Batchen’s previous exhibition, Emanations: the art of the cameraless photograph, similarly brought together a wealth of photographs one wouldn’t expect to find so close at hand from Australasian collections, proving that New Zealand audiences can see some expertly produced exhibitions given the right attention and resourcing.

Weekend Reading

Dayanita Singh is interviewed here discussing her Pocket Museum publication, a miniature version of the Museum Bhavan exhibition published by Steidl.

Some listening for a change. Last month 95bFM broadcast an interview with Erika Balsom as part of their Artbank programme. Balsom is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at King’s College London and was visiting New Zealand as part of the Govett-Brewster At Gallery’s International Film Curator in residence programme. Balsom covers her visit to New Zealand (and Australia) in this month’s Art Monthly magazine (unavailable online).

There’s a lot of talk around Alexander Calder lately, principally around he Whitney Museum’s exhibition, Calder: Hypermobility. This piece from Hyperallergic covers the performative aspect of Calder’s motor driven works in the Whitney show. The article includes several videos from the Whitney’s channel which lead me on the Calder Foundation’s own videos. Here’s Calder Foundation chairman and grandson of Calder, Alexander S. C. Rower, demonstrating motion in Calder’s work.

The other exciting news in the Calder world is Jed Perl’s new biography, an excerpt  published here by the Smithsonian.

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WYNDHAM LEWIS: A BATTERY SHELLED (1919)

The Imperial War Museum North’s Wyndham Lewis exhibition gets a review in the London Review of Books, reviewer Jon Day observing Lewis’ best work was his war paintings:

In fact, the pictures are still shocking: war gave Lewis a subject which was equal to his anger. He pays as much attention to the angle of a rack of shells as he does to the bodies of the men around them. Unlike some of his peers, he wasn’t interested in the dynamism of war – there are no explosions, his war paintings are strangely static. Nor did the war do much to strip him of the schoolboyish contrarianism of Blast. But it did give him a way of applying Vorticism to the real world, providing a context for what Read called ‘the geometry of fear’. Lewis’s work can still feel more modernist than any of his peers’.