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.
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.