Tag Archives: National Gallery of Art

Panoramas around DC – The National Gallery of Art

Last weekend I took an excursion down to the National Gallery of Art to do some book shopping in their bookstore. I brought the Lomo Belair with me to play around a bit.

Waterfall, National Gallery
Waterfall, Cafeteria, National Gallery of Art

The cafeteria and bookstore for the NGA is below ground. There’s a great big window that looks out at a fountain that cascades from the plaza at street level above, and transforms what could otherwise be a dark and oppressively cavern-like space into something almost airy.

Skylight,National Gallery Cafeteria
Skylight, Cafeteria, National Gallery

Also directly above the cafeteria and facing the waterfall are the glass pyramidal skylights. They’re not true pyramids, as they’re actually irregular tetrahedrons (four-faced geometric structures with each face being a triangle).

Stairs, National Gallery
Stairs, West Wing, National Gallery of Art

Contrasting to the brutal modern geometric structures of the cafeteria and the East Wing (itself a wedge-shaped structure designed by I.M. Pei and completed in the 1970s), the original gallery building is supremely neoclassical, designed by one of the late-19th/early 20th century’s greatest American architects, John Russell Pope. The marble staircase shown here has the sweeping grandeur and majesty of a European royal palace.

The images as you see them here are an interim step- my plan is to make platinum prints from all of them. The originals are shot on 2 1/4 inch roll film, so prints directly from the in-camera original film would be quite small – 2 1/4 x 4 1/4 inches. I want to make slightly bigger prints, and I want to try out making digitally enlarged negatives with another technique I recently came across for the digital negative process. I’ve been around and around with making digital negatives for a while and never been especially happy with my results. All the techniques I’ve seen and tried so far are rather labor-intensive and involve making several rounds of test prints just to develop the adjustment curve needed to make the negative print well in pt/pd.

I came across a video from Bostick & Sullivan that explains the process quite simply and clearly, and the website provides you with a downloadable pre-made curve for adjusting your negatives to make them suitable for pt/pd printing. I’ve made the appropriate digital files from these images, and the next step will be to print them over the weekend and try making my prints from them. I’ll post the results of the printing session as soon as I have them.

Here is the video from YouTube:

And the page to download the curves for Pt/Pd, Cyanotype, Kallitype, and Van Dyke:

Digital Negative Adjustment Curves – Bostick & Sullivan

First Photos of the New Year

Well, ok, I actually shot these on the 30th of December, but they got processed today. This is perhaps the best three-frame panorama I’ve shot with the Rollei panorama adapter so far. It’s ALMOST seamless.

Ice Rink Panorama
Ice Rink Panorama

This is the ice rink they set up every winter in the fountain of the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden. The imposing building in the background is the National Archives.

Museum Exhibition Catalogs

While I was in Paris, I went to see a major exhibition at the Musee D’Orsay, Masculin/Masculin, a retrospective of the male nude in art from 1800 to the present. It was beautifully presented, almost overwhelming in size and scope, and extremely memorable. At the time, I thought about buying the catalog because it had outstanding reproductions of the work in the exhibit, including many works and artists I was unfamiliar with. I decided not to because of the size and weight of the catalog, especially considering that it was only available hardcover and my bags were already close to the weight limit. After I got home, I was kicking myself for not buying it after all. I got a second chance, however, when a friend who lives in New York told me he would be going in early December, and he offered to bring me back a copy. It arrived today, just in time to be a Christmas present to myself.

This got me thinking about museum exhibition catalogs. I generally try to buy them for exhibits I’ve enjoyed when I have the chance, because it serves as a reminder of the work exhibited, and it goes a long way to helping support the museum mounting the exhibit, especially when the museum (like all the galleries of the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art) does not charge admission. As a result, I thought I’d list the exhibitions I’ve collected catalogs from.

In rough chronological order, descending, they are:

  • Charles Marville, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 2013
  • Masculin/Masculin, Musee D’Orsay, Paris, France 2013
  • Photography and the American Civil War, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2013
  • Faking it: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 2013
  • 40 under 40: Craft Futures, Renwick Gallery, Washington DC, 2012
  • Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2010
  • Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, 2010
  • Framing the West: The Survey Photographs of Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC, 2010
  • Truth/Beauty: Pictorialism and the Photograph as Art – 1845-1945, Phillips Gallery, Washington DC, 2009
  • Faces of the Frontier: Photographic Portraits from the American West, National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, 2009
  • Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese: Rivals in Renaissance Venice, Boston Museum of Fine Art, Boston, 2009
  • Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC 2008
  • All the Mighty World: Photographs of Roger Fenton, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2004
  • Segnali di Fumo: L’avventura del West nella Fotograffia, Castello Sforzesco, Milan, Italy 1994
  • Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Columbus, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 1992
  • Treasure Houses of Britain, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC 1985
  • Tutankhamen, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC 1977
  • The Family of Man, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1955*

*obviously I did NOT attend the Family of Man exhibit, as I wasn’t even a fantasy in my grandparents’ minds in 1955. But I do have the exhibition book.

Also note that I’ve listed where I saw the exhibit, not necessarily who published the catalog.

Perhaps the oddest is the Segnali di Fumo catalog, purely on account of the incongruity of going all the way to Milan, Italy to see photographs of the American West (well, I didn’t GO to Milan to see the exhibit, but happened upon it as I was leaving the Castello Sforzesco), with a significant body from the Amon Carter museum in Texas. Which I haven’t been to yet, but really ought to. It would also help close the loop on my France trip, for it is there that the first known photograph ever is held – Niepce’s first known heliograph of the view out his studio window at his estate near Chalon-sur-Saone (that I couldn’t visit because it was closed for the season). I’m sure I’m missing one or two from my collection, and my collection of catalogs is a pale shadow of the total number of exhibits I’ve been to either because no catalog was produced (producing an exhibition catalog is a major undertaking and not done casually or cheaply) or because I couldn’t afford it at the time.

Another day I’ll put together a catalog of my photography monographs, as I know this is of interest to some. It’s not a huge collection, especially in light of my overall library size, but it is a work in progress.

Charles Marville exhibit at the National Gallery of Art

The River Seine by Charles Marville

Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris

Around 1832 Parisian-born Charles-François Bossu (1813–1879) shed his unfortunate last name (bossu means hunchback in French) and adopted the pseudonym Marville. After achieving moderate success as an illustrator of books and magazines, Marville shifted course in 1850 and took up photography, a medium that had been introduced 11 years earlier. His poetic urban views, detailed architectural studies, and picturesque landscapes quickly garnered praise. Although he made photographs throughout France, Germany, and Italy, it was his native city—especially its monuments, churches, bridges, and gardens—that provided the artist with his greatest and most enduring source of inspiration.

By the end of the 1850s, Marville had established a reputation as an accomplished and versatile photographer. From 1862, as official photographer for the city of Paris, he documented aspects of the radical modernization program that had been launched by Emperor Napoleon III and his chief urban planner, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann. In this capacity, Marville photographed the city’s oldest quarters, and especially the narrow, winding streets slated for demolition. Even as he recorded the disappearance of Old Paris, Marville turned his camera on the new city that had begun to emerge. Many of his photographs celebrate its glamour and comforts, while other views of the city’s desolate outskirts attest to the unsettling social and physical changes wrought by rapid modernization. Taken as a whole, Marville’s photographs of Paris stand as one of the earliest and most powerful explorations of urban transformation on a grand scale.

By the time of his death, Marville had fallen into relative obscurity, with much of his work stored in municipal or state archives. This exhibition, which marks the bicentennial of Marville’s birth, explores the full trajectory of the artist’s photographic career and brings to light the extraordinary beauty and historical significance of his art.

I went this weekend with my parents to see this exhibit. It is a wonderfully presented exhibition, and proof positive that when the National Gallery tries hard to do a good photography show, they can. The exhibition had special resonance for my father and I as we have just been to Paris, and trod the same streets documented in these photographs.

The exhibition has over 100 prints of Charles Marville’s work on display, ranging from early salt-paper portraits made from calotype negatives (negatives made on paper) to large albumen prints of architectural studies from glass collodion negatives. His architectural works have a significant sociological aspect as they document neighborhoods in transition from medieval warrens of twisted streets and cantering buildings flung up haphazard against one another, populated by the Parisian working class, to the modern, wide boulevarded, sanitized, luxurious Paris created by Baron Haussmann that we think of today.

Among the modernizations he documented were the new gas street lamps being installed, and the public urinals Haussmann designed to improve public sanitation (a major obsession of his). While many of the street lamps were preserved with electrification and can still be seen today, only one of Haussmann’s urnials still stands on Parisian streets.

Marville even includes himself in this transition, as he frequently used himself or an assistant as a stand-in for scale and emotional impact amidst the tumult and construction/destruction he photographed. He even photographed his prospering studio in a location that a scant few years later would also fall victim to Haussmann’s ‘modernizations’.

At the peak of his career he was the official photographer of Paris, but by the time of his death, he had faded into obscurity, his work ending up stored in state and city archives, and not a single obituary was published to mark his passing. He may have died in obscurity, but his work survived and preserved the city in transition, sometimes with his images being the sole record of the city that was.

The exhibit will be traveling to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in January. If you can make it, it will be well worth your while.

Michelangelo’s David/Apollo

Michelangelo's David/Apollo
Michelangelo’s David/Apollo

From January to March of this year, Michelangelo’s David/Apollo, normally resident in the Bargello museum in Florence, was on loan to the National Gallery of Art in DC. Being a huge Michelangelo fan, I had to go see it. The last time it was exhibited here in the US was during Harry Truman’s presidency. In fact, there are only three known or attributed works by Michelangelo in the United States (a drawing and two sculptures, one of which is in a private collection), so it’s a rare day when you can get to see something from his hand.

One of Michelangelo’s “unfinished” sculptures, much speculation exists around the entire series of the “unfinished” carvings – were they unfinished because Michelangelo was always biting off more than he could chew and didn’t have time, or did he deliberately leave them “unfinished” because he was making an artistic statement about the relationship between the image, the stone and the carving? Either way, they make for a tantalizing insight into the mind and the technique of one of the world’s greatest sculptors.

 David/Apollo Admirer
David/Apollo Admirer

I’m almost as fascinated by the people who come to look at art as I am the art itself. Sometimes (frequently, actually) I’m very annoyed with museum patrons because they’ll blithely traipse right between you and a work or the wall label for it that you’re trying to look at, rented headset on, completely oblivious to the fact that you now cannot read or see the exhibit. But when they’re not blocking your view, the way they look at art is endlessly interesting. Some will point, some will stand back and appraise, some will “print-sniff” and get close enough the guards have to warn them off. Some will ingest silently, others will pontificate to their audience of friends (and anyone else within earshot), often as not with art history textbook opinions and/or not entirely accurate “facts” about the artwork and/or the artist.

Washington DC

Staircase, National Gallery of Art
Staircase, National Gallery of Art

I just like the staircase at the National Gallery because by itself it has a sculptural feel, and combined with the bronze torso, it becomes almost an installation piece in itself. Plus in a way it reminds me of Frederick Evans’ cathedral stairs photos.

Metro Train Arriving, Archives Station
Metro Train Arriving, Archives Station

This is another of my experiments with motion and time on the Metro. I wanted to convey that sense of anticipation as the train arrives like I did last time, but in this shot I wanted to give more of a sense of the space and also to have the fellow passengers more visible.

The Hamilton Hotel, 14th Street
The Hamilton Hotel, 14th Street
1101 Fourteenth Street
1101 Fourteenth Street

These two are views from the building in which I work during the day. I wanted to capture that birds-eye view of the city you get from inside a tall building, and include the building itself in the image, to remind you of the vantage point.

Exhibition Review – Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop

Over my lunch break today I caught a wonderful exhibit at the National Gallery of Art entitled Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop. The exhibition opened in mid-February and runs through May 5th. It moves to Houston in July to October. One of the singular points the exhibit drives home is the fact that photography has always been subject to manipulation even from its earliest days when daguerreotypes were hand-colored to make them more ‘realistic’, and skies were printed in via multiple negatives to compensate for the shortcomings of early emulsion formulas. One of the coups of the exhibition is the inclusion of Steichen’s “The Pond – Moonlight” from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most people familiar with the work know it as a multi-layered gum bichromate over platinum print. What most don’t realize, however, is that the image may in fact be a composite with the moon having been added, and may also never have been photographed by moonlight (a feat that would have been difficult to achieve with the emulsions available even in 1904). The moon in the image may be an addition or otherwise a manipulation of the print, and the nighttime feel of the image merely an effect of the color choices in the gum layers of the print.

The Pond, Moonlight - Edward Steichen

Images have been manipulated for a whole host of reasons, from a desire to make them more real (hand-colored daguerreotypes) to conveying an inner reality (surrealist photography) to evoking an emotional resonance (The Pond, Moonlight) to suggesting a reality that could exist (a Zeppelin docking at the docking tower of the Empire State building) to creating something that never existed (giant crickets consuming giant produce on the back of a wagon) to re-shaping reality for political ends (Nazi and Soviet propaganda posters and publicity photos). All of the above are represented in this exhibit, and placed in an historical and artistic continuum.

There has been much controversy lately over questions of photojournalistic integrity with regards to digital manipulation to include/exclude details to tell a story, from the Iranians photoshopping additional rockets into a picture of a missile test to Edgar Martins getting caught claiming his work was unmanipulated when in fact he was heavily altering his images. This is not new, but in fact the question of manipulative ethics is far more unsettled for far longer than most people realize. In 1906, Horace Nichols was photographing the Epsom Derby on a rainy day. There were gaps in the crowd, so to convey the feeling of the event he wanted to convey, he spliced in a whole sea of additional umbrellas. This was common practice for Mr. Nichols, and he rarely cited it in the captions of his images, but he sustained a career as a serious photo-journalist. It makes you think long and hard about your assumptions of photographic verissimilitude and the historical moment in which photography ‘ceased to tell the truth’.

The exhibition is well worth the visit if you have an interest in the history of photography and questions of honesty and integrity of the photographic medium.

Also worth noting is that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is currently hosting (through May, 2013) a companion exhibit (which I hope will travel as well) entitled After Photoshop: Manipulated Photography in the Digital Age

I’ll be up in New York in April for a weekend and so I’ll try to catch it then and see the two shows as brackets for one another. The comparison should be very interesting.

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Fountain, National Gallery of Art
Fountain, National Gallery of Art

This fountain is visible from both above ground and below as it cascades down a series of steps, sliced through in cross-section. The East and West wings of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC are connected via an underground passageway, and in the middle of this passageway is a large cafe and seating area. The wall of the passageway opposite the cafe is floor-to-ceiling glass, looking directly in to this fountain. The odd orange dots in the lower corners of the photo are reflections of the Christmas lights on miniature trees placed in front of the window. I deliberately used a moderately slow (1/30th of a second) shutter speed combined with a fairly wide aperture (f5.6 I think) to keep some blur in the water and render it abstract. Just off camera right in this photo is where the light sculpture I posted earlier is located.

East Wing, National Gallery of Art, seen from the West Wing exit
East Wing, National Gallery of Art, seen from the West Wing exit

Here is a view of the I.M. Pei designed East Wing of the National Gallery of Art, from the exit of the John Russell Pope designed West Wing. The strange colors are caused by the coatings on the glass to prevent UV transmission and keep the lobby cool in the summer. I waited for some people to go through the doors to add a touch of energy and human engagement to the image. You can see the above-ground portion of the fountain from this photo.

North Lobby, National Gallery of Art
North Lobby, National Gallery of Art

This is the North entrance lobby of the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art. I’m standing at street level by the security guard’s desk, looking up through the oculus at the chandelier. This is another grand space that is under appreciated because most people never look UP when passing through to take in the building design.

All photos were taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, using Kodak Portra 800.

Light Sculpture, National Gallery of Art – still photo version

National Gallery of Art, Light Sculpture #1
National Gallery of Art, Light Sculpture #1
National Gallery of Art, Light Sculpture #2
National Gallery of Art, Light Sculpture #2
National Gallery of Art, Light Sculpture #3
National Gallery of Art, Light Sculpture #3

Three shots of the light sculpture in operation, taken with the Rolleiflex, hand-held, using Kodak Portra 800. I thought it would make for a different take on the piece compared to the video (which was shot on my iPhone, thus the shakiness). The light sculpture has been set so that it will never in fact repeat itself exactly.