2 weeks ago

Artistic License: Moment in Time

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The National Gallery of Ireland’s latest exhibition “Moment in Time: A Legacy of Photographs – Works from the Bank of America Collection” spans 180 years and features almost 120 works from photographers including Ansel Adams, Brassai, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, and Man Ray. Anne Hodge, Curator of Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Ireland, tells us more about it.

Chicago, 1950, Harry Callahan. Bank of America Collection © The Estate of Harry Callahan; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.

This is quite a coup. How did the exhibition come about?

Bank of America has been a supporter of National Gallery of Ireland for quite some time. Recently they funded the successful project to conserve the Gallery’s largest painting, The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife by Daniel Maclise. The Bank offered to lend a large photography exhibition “Moment in Time”, originally shown at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego. This exhibition comes at a perfect time as the Gallery has just begun to collect photographic art in earnest. A selection of our recently acquired photographs can be seen in the exhibition “View of Ireland” which runs concurrently with “Moment in Time”.

Worker, Saratoga California, The Story of A Winery, Paul Masson, 1958, Lewis Wickes Hine. Bank of America Collection

Can you tell us about the original collectors of the photographs, who assembled the collection, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall?

Beaumont and Nancy Newhall were a husband and wife team: renowned scholars, writers and promoters of photography. Between 1968 and 1969 they assembled a collection that covered the history of photography for The Exchange National Bank of Chicago, a legacy Bank of America institution. These photographs form the nucleus of the Bank’s wide-ranging collection, which spans the full historical and technical range of the medium, from 19th-century calotypes to colour dye-transfer prints. The collection emerged at a particular “moment in time”, the late 1960s, an era of change and upheaval. Beaumont Newhall (1908-1993) was the first curator of photography at The Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). In 1940, in collaboration with photographer Ansel Adams, Newhall founded MoMA’s Photography Department. Nancy Newhall (1908-1974), a photography critic, wrote numerous publications and helped develop the photobook as an art form. She collaborated with many of the photographic luminaries of the day. In 1952, in collaboration with Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and Barbara Morgan, the Newhalls launched the photography magazine Aperture. This quarterly periodical promoted photography as a fine art.

Sportscar, Arthur Siegel. Bank of America Collection © The Estate of Arthur Siegel

The exhibition features photographers including Ansel Adams, Brassai, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, and Man Ray each with their own distinctive style. Can you tell us about some of these iconic photographers?

Ansel Adams was a dedicated artist and activist who played a major role in bringing environmental issues to the fore. He once said, “Let us leave a splendid legacy for our children … once destroyed, nature’s beauty cannot be repurchased at any price.” With today’s climate emergency looming, Adams’s work and ideals are still incredibly relevant.

Brooklyn-born Man Ray was one of the pioneers of Dadaism and Surrealism. He began making photograms, or “Rayograms”, as he called them, when he moved to Paris in 1922. These strange, abstract photographic images were created without a camera. Objects were simply placed onto photosentised paper and exposed to light, creating negative images.

Dorothea Lange was a brilliant documentary photographer, probably best known for her Depression-era images, particularly her moving portrait of a migrant mother. During World War II the US government commissioned her to record the internment of Japanese Americans in so-called “relocation camps”. One of the most striking images in Moment in Time is her photograph of a young Japanese-American child pictured, hand on heart, solemnly singing the national anthem.

One Nation Indivisible, 1957 negative, printed in 1967, Dorothea Lange. Bank of America Collection

I believe the exhibition shows the full range of the photographic medium from 19th-century calotypes to colour photographs …

Yes, it is very much a “potted-history” of the medium. The faded calotypes of inventor William Henry Fox Talbot are incredible. They were made in 1843 just a few years after the invention of photography. People did not know what to make of these incredibly real looking images and confused them with prints. Fox Talbot explained that the images were created “by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artists’ pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves […] not engravings in imitation.” There are many beautiful gelatin silver prints in the show including a stunning portrait of Greta Garbo taken by Edward Steichen in 1928 just at the beginning of her Hollywood career. Black and white images predominate but there are some striking colour photographs also, in particular an abstract chromogenic print by Syl Labrot and a gorgeous dye-transfer print of vivid maple leaves by Eliot Porter.

Couple au bal musette des Quatre-Saisons, Rue de Lappe, 1932, Brassaï (Gyula Halász). © Estate of Brassai – RMN Grand Palais.

Do you have any favourite images?

There are so many gorgeous images … it’s very hard to choose … but I absolutely love Jacques Henri Lartique’s brilliant snap of a car zooming by in the 1913 Grand Prix at Dieppe. Using a low angle, he photographed the favourite in the race, M. Croquet, as he sped past in cap and goggles. There is such a sense of drama and excitement in this picture and Lartique was only a teenager when he captured it. Another favourite is Brassai’s intimate and romantic image of a young couple. They are gazing into each other’s eyes, completely oblivious to the fact that they are being photographed. For me, these photographs show us the skill of these artists who could capture what Henri Cartier-Bresson called “the decisive moment”.

The Dancers: Martha Graham in Letter to the World, 1940, Barbara Morgan. Bank of America Collection

Any supporting programme alongside the exhibition?

There are over 40 events happening alongside “Moment in Time”. We’ll have walking tours of Dublin with art historian Dr Katy Milligan and photographer Gavin Leane, at which they will teach participants about the city and how to photograph it. There’ll be a creative careers workshop with photographer Hazel Coonagh providing technical tips to young people. Miriam O’Callaghan will be in conversation with photographer Eric Luke at the Gallery in January. And mid-term break workshops for children of all ages covering everything from painting with light to creating your own camera.

Need to Know: “Moment in Time: A Legacy of Photographs Works from the Bank of America Collection” opens at the National Gallery of Ireland on Saturday, November 30 and runs until Sunday, March 22, 2020. Tickets cost €15/€5 and Friends of the National Gallery of Ireland and children under 18 go free; www.nationalgallery.ie.

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