Tag Archives: Smithsonian Institution

Japanese Photographs acquired by the Hirshhorn

I’m thrilled to announce that two works by a brilliant Japanese daguerreotypist (and the man who taught me how to do daguerreotypes) have been acquired by the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

I couldn’t find links to the images in question that were acquired by the Smithsonian, so I’m linking to two related images from his website.


A Maquette for a Multiple Monument for Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
2014, Daguerreotype, 67x280cm
and

The Atomic Bomb Dome, Hiroshima
2014, Daguerreotype, 25.2×19.3cm

ArtForum Article

You can see more of his work here, on his website:

Takashi Arai Studio

Manassas Battlefield tour, with Ed Bearss and the Smithsonian

I’m a member of the Smithsonian Resident Associates program – its a whole collection of educational and entertaining activities offered throughout the year ranging from evening lectures to hands-on arts and crafts courses to day tours and even week-long study trips, as well as a certificate program in Art History taught in conjunction with The Corcoran School of Art and George Washington University. A couple weekends ago I went on one of their history tours to Manassas Battlefield for the battle of First Manassas, with Ed Bearss as the tour leader. For those who don’t know, Ed is an underappreciated national treasure. He turns 90 in a month and a bit, was combat wounded in WW II (hit five times by a Japanese machine gun), is the Chief Historian Emeritus of the US Park Service, and appeared in Ken Burns’ The Civil War documentary as well as a regular on the History Channel’s Civil War Journal. He has forgotten more about the Civil War than any of us will ever know. Ed, at 90, still leads tours over 250 days a year. I’ve taken five of his tours now (maybe six?), but he has some die-hard groupies out there that make me look like a slacker wanna-be fan (I’ve been on tours before where other folks have proudly announced they’ve taken every tour he offers through the Smithsonian, sometimes more than once).

Ed Bearss talking in front of the Stone House, Manassas Battlefield
Ed Bearss talking in front of the Stone House, Manassas Battlefield

Ed is a marvelous story-teller. He recounted the tale of how Stonewall Jackson got his nom-de-guerre:

“And General Bee, upon seeing Thomas Jonathan Jackson with his troops in the edge of the woods, called out to his men “There stands Jackson like a stone wall; rally behind the Virginians”. He may not have meant it as a compliment, however. It all depends, you see, on whether or not he said those two phrases in the same breath. Bee, you see, was a South Carolinian, and may not have held Jackson in particularly high regard. One version has it that he said the two comments an hour apart – if he said them together, it’s a compliment. But if he said them separately, “there stands Jackson like a stone wall” comes off as rather a put-down. The only way we’ll know for sure what General Bee meant is if one of us dies and goes to heaven or hell, and meets General Bee and asks him which it was”

Ed Bearss with Battlefield Map
Ed Bearss with Battlefield Map
Confederate Cannon, Manassas
Confederate Cannon, Manassas

This cannon, although NOT original to the battlefield, is in the relative position of Stonewall Jackson’s unit. One remarkable feature when you see the battlefield is how close the units were- one battery of Union cannon traded hands five times over the course of the day, and they were not more than 100 yards from the Confederate lines.

Henry House
Henry House

The Henry House that you see in the above photo was the home of the widow Henry, one of the first civilian casualties of the Civil War. The house that you see standing now is not her house, but a replacement. Her house was of similar footprint but only one and a half stories tall. It was destroyed when those Union cannons I mentioned previously were turned and fired point-blank into the house where Confederate infantry had concealed themselves and were firing on the Union gunners. One cannonball tore through the house and removed widow Henry’s foot on its way through as she lay in bed.

Within eyesight of the Henry House was the home of “Gentleman” Jim Robinson. Jim was a mulatto man, and the half-brother of widow Henry. Their father was “King” Carter, the tidewater plantation owner and one of the wealthiest men in America at the time of the Revolution. Jim was born a slave but manumitted by his father upon Mr. Carter’s death.

The monument immediately beside the Henry House was erected by Union soldiers immediately after the war, and is one of the oldest Civil War memorials. Perhaps THE oldest is also at Manassas, but is not much more than a pedestal today. It was erected during the war by Confederate soldiers to commemorate one of their generals who was killed at 1st Manassas, but torn down by Union soldiers some time after 2nd Manassas.

Stone House with cannonball, Manassas
Stone House with cannonball, Manassas

Here is the door to the Stone House, with the cleverly placed cannonball embedded in the wall. Note I said cleverly placed – there are a total of five cannonballs stuck in the stonework of the house, but none of them are there as a result of either the first or second battles of Manassas. Rather, they were added to the house at a much later date (some time in the early 20th century) by the owner, to boost the tourist appeal. How do we know? well, for one thing, all of them are neatly embedded, with no flaking, chipping or fracturing of the stone as would have been the case if the wall had been struck by the cannonball at high velocity. For another, one of the cannonballs is of a type not invented or used until some time in the 1870s.

Under the Stone Bridge
Under the Stone Bridge
Bull Run from the Stone Bridge
Bull Run from the Stone Bridge
Stone Bridge over Bull Run
Stone Bridge over Bull Run

Here is the stone bridge, around which much of the early fighting of the day took place. The bridge spans Bull Run, and although the bridge you see here today is of the same stone as the one that stood there at the battle, it is not the original bridge but rather a reconstruction – during the war, the Confederates demolished the central arch of the bridge to deny Union forces access to the other side. This did not stop them of course, but instead Union engineers built a wooden span on the existing foundations, and then it was rebuilt in the 1884 as you see it today. This was the original course of the Warrenton Turnpike (today’s Route 29, the Lee Highway) and all traffic on that route crossed this bridge until the route was straightened and a new two-lane bridge was built adjacent in the 1960s.

I’ll close with another portrait of Ed, with his swagger stick made from a .50 caliber machine gun bullet.

Ed at the Stone Bridge
Ed at the Stone Bridge

Orchid Show at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum

Here’s a few shots I took at the Latin American Orchid exhibit at the Smithsonian over the weekend.

Yellow Paph

Pink Dendrobium

White Cattleya

All shots taken with a Rolleiflex 2.8E with a Rolleinar 2 close-focus adapter, Kodak Portra 400, and hand-held at 1/30th of a second between f2.8 and f4.5. I think I’ll go back another weekend and try again this time with a flash so I can get more depth of field. Don’t know if I’ll take the Metz or something smaller, as the Metz may be TOO powerful.

Kogod Courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC

Kogod Courtyard, West Facade, Night
Kogod Courtyard, West Facade, Night
Kogod Courtyard, South Facade, Night
Kogod Courtyard, South Facade, Night
Kogod Courtyard, Southeast View, Day
Kogod Courtyard, Southeast View, Day
Kogod Courtyard, West View, Day
Kogod Courtyard, West View, Day
Kogod Courtyard, South View, Day
Kogod Courtyard, South View, Day

Here are some views of the Kogod Courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery. The blue lighting in the nighttime shots of the courtyard was for an after-hours reception being held at the museum. The courtyard used to be a fairly typical Victorian-era affair with a pair of fountains and some scraggly looking shrubbery, open to the air and more importantly, the weather. A few years ago they undertook a multi-million dollar renovation, ripping out the old landscaping and (non-working) fountains and enclosing it with a Norman Foster designed undulating glass roof. At first I found the interior design rather stark. It has grown on me, though, with the modern interpretations of fountains being just a thin sheet of water flowing in a rectangle across the floor. Of course the roof is the masterwork – it bends and twists like a piece of origami paper. The courtyard is now a very pleasant place to sit and just pass the time, reading a book or eating something from the museum cafe.

All photos were taken with my Rolleiflex 2.8E, on Kodak Portra 800 film. Also, for the die-hard photo geeks out there, I’ve been using the free light meter app for my iPhone to do the metering. I’d say it works pretty darned well 🙂

Light Sculpture at the National Gallery

National Gallery Light Sculpture

Here’s my first video post- I went to the National Gallery of Art today and shot this little video clip of the light sculpture between the underground cafe and the East Wing of the National Gallery. This is one of the pleasures and benefits of living in Washington DC – virtually all museums are free admission, and open 7 days a week. I’d be hard pressed to move elsewhere and give up this perk. Do note that the National Gallery of Art is NOT part of the Smithsonian, although it is co-located with the other Smithsonian museums on the National Mall. I actually made it a three museum day – I started off with the African-American Civil War Museum, which is located in my neighborhood. For a small, privately funded museum without the visibility or the location of the big name museums downtown, they did an impressive job of displaying and interpreting the storyline and the supporting artifacts in their collection.

African American Civil War Museum

I knew they were there, but in more than a decade of living near them, I had never made it in. Today I decided to stop by and see, since they were open (a past problem due to their former facilities). I’m very glad I did. Because I’m a civil war nut, there wasn’t a LOT new to me, but there was enough to make it worthwhile. They do a great job contextualizing the African-American experience from the beginnings of European colonization in the Americas through the Civil War, and beyond to the Civil Rights era. I highly recommend the visit.

To bracket the experience, I stopped in the National Portrait Gallery/Museum of American Art (which IS part of the Smithsonian, and has awesome opening hours, from 11 am to 7 pm every day except Christmas). This is one of the very best museums in DC, in my opinion, not only because they’re in a beautiful Greek Revival building originally designed to house the US Patent Office (which I have a personal connection to the building – an ancestor of mine was a US Senator from Maine who commissioned the construction of the building), but they also have some of the very best photography (and non-photographic art) exhibits. They have some daring younger curators putting together brilliant exhibits that include painting, photography, prints, and sculpture, keeping the underlying theme of the American experience to unify sometimes very disparate artworks and objects. Today I saw “The Civil War and American Art“, rather a contrast to the African-American museum because it was filled with big-ticket paintings and original photographs. At least it was not neglectful of the African-American experience, including multiple paintings on the question of slavery and its impact on the American psyche and the Civil War.

Then it was on to the National Gallery of Art. Yes, I know, whirlwind day. The NGA had a photography show in their basement gallery on the subject of “Serial Portraiture”. Serial Portraiture is defined as works of portraiture that span an extended period of time and/or depict multiple aspects of a person’s character or moods. The exhibit featured works by Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Andre Kertesz, Harry Callahan, Emmet Gowin, Milton Rogovin, and a handful of contemporary photographers like Francesca Woodman and Ann Hamilton. The show itself is interesting, depicting classic as well as contemporary takes on the serial portrait and its use to explore contemporary concerns with identity and expression. The exhibition catalog (available as a PDF) is a failure, as it excludes more than half the material in the show. This is where the NGA is a consistent disappointment – they mount some potentially interesting exhibits of photography, but they hide them away in the basement, and then if they produce an exhibition catalog at all, they produce some half-hearted flimsy pamphlet. The Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum, on the other hand, when they produce a catalog, like the Civil War Art exhibit, they go all out with a hardcover volume with supplemental materials beyond what is presented in the exhibit.

To cleanse the palate after that, I stopped by the Michelangelo “David-Apollo” display upstairs. This is the kind of thing the NGA does get right (although they wouldn’t allow photos!!! BOO HISS) – classical art by dead white men. I really wish a piece like this was on display when I was taking my stone carving classes, as studying photos of Michelangelo’s carving technique is radically insufficient. If you have the opportunity, please come and see the piece while it is here – it returns to Italy at the end of March, 2013.

New phase for me- video

If you’ve been following my blog for a little while, you probably saw the post about my friend Nick Dong’s art installation at the Renwick Gallery (the Smithsonian Museum of American Arts and Crafts). At that shoot, Nick shot a quickie video of the piece using his point-n-shoot camera. The video quality was somewhat disappointing. He’ll be back in town tomorrow for the exhibit opening, and I’ll be going over to the gallery after hours to shoot video, which I hope to post here when I have it edited. Nick’s need for a video of the installation, plus several personal projects I have in mind (some instructional videos on platinum printing, a Kickstarter funding request, and some artist interviews at Glen Echo Photoworks).

I’m still learning my way around the camcorder – a Canon Vixia HF G10. The touch-screen controls are fairly intuitive, and they get easier the more you play with it and start learning the control layout, but certain things being buried in touch-screen menus is frustrating to someone coming from analog still photography where all the controls are exposed all the time as knobs, buttons or dials. At least this one does have a nice fat manual-focus control ring right around the lens, making it easy to pull focus, and the zoom speed is easy to manage as well. You can vary the zoom speed from almost-imperceptible to WHAM! in a fluid manner instead of having just two or three zoom speeds.

Shoot at the Renwick Gallery – Part 2

Here is a series of illustrations of the operation of the room. This shows the room getting brighter as Nick sits on the cushion (see, you do get to see his face after all!). Nick’s installation consists of a long, narrow room with the walls covered in elongated hexagonal tiles (each of which Nick made, and hand signed on the back!) . The floor and ceiling are covered in mirror tiles. The opposite end of the room from which you enter is rounded, and at the focus of the hemicircle, a mirror-based seat with a white cushion is located. In the ceiling is a series of LED lights. Sitting on the cushion triggers the lights and music, which build in intensity for approximately one minute before fading out.

Here is a link to the Renwick Gallery’s exhibit announcement:

Renwick Gallery 40 under 40

and here is a link to Nick Dong’s website:

Nick Dong

Here are three more images of Nick, up close.