Photography, or "light writing," is at once an art, a science, a form of communication, and a craft. Since the first permanent images were captured in 1839, photography has continued to shift and change, interpreted by technological advances in equipment and processing, innovations in style and taste, and the socio-cultural discourses in which it has been produced, consumed, and used. Photographs are made for many purposes—from portraiture, science, travel, journalism, propaganda, recreation, and art—and on every occasion—from historic events to small moments of everyday life. In each instance, photography may capture human drama and convey multiple meanings in the moment over time. From the camera obscura to the iPhone, visual communication has triumphed in society, and photography remains the most democratic art form with the human ability to process indelible images.
The early availability of photographic prints, the affordability of cameras, and a user-friendly developing process eventually allowed both the specialist and the amateur not only to consume photographs, but also to quickly produce them. Photography's unprecedented amateur movement beginning in the nineteenth century continues today. The emergence of digital photography is yet one more step in the technological evolution of image capture and reproduction—and the ease of taking, reproducing, manipulating, and sharing photographs is more apparent than ever.
The rapid transition from digital photography and the exponential access to digital imaging prompt a new appreciation of the tradition methods of photography, which quickly have become historic processes. Photographs printed with early transfer and negative/positive film processes increasingly have bcome rare artifacts with vulnerable physical properties, and photography once again stands at a familiar crossroads between technology, accessibility, history, and art.
In Focus: Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital is am ambitious overview of historical processes and popular themes for the contemporary study of photography that is illustrated by selected books, ephemera, archival collections, and photographic sources in Special Collections at the University of Delaware Library.
The front case introduces a spectrum of these sources, from the magnificently printed folio of photographs from the Gilman collection, to the Library’s digitized nineteenth-century Samoan photographs, to iconic Victorian portraits, to the evocative 1960s images of Parisian couture by Schatzberg or Avedon’s unforgettable headshots of The Beatles, to portraits in which the photographer’s celebrity matched the subject’s renown, or to equally masterful portraits of “ordinary” people (Miss Ruth Almond by photographer unknown), to snappy documentation of local citizens for the 250th anniversary of Newark, to the theoretically manipulated interpretations of Nova reperta, to the beautifully printed Meskel Demera in which Bogardus revives nineteenth-century photogravures.
Photographs from the collection of the Gilman Paper Company ; with plates by Richard Benson. New York : White Oak Press, 1985.
Selected by Pierre Apraxine, the curator of the renowned Gilman photography collection, this massive volume presents 200 finely printed images from over 100 photographers spanning processes from 1840s daguerreotypes to 20th-century prints of the 1950s and 1960s. Begun by his mother Sondra Gilman and built by the paper magnate Howard Gilman under the guidance of Apraxine over a period of two decades (1977-1997), the collection was hailed as the largest and most important privately owned collection of photography in the world. After Gilman’s death in 1998, the collection was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005. Richard Benson created line-screen negatives of each black and white original photograph for offset lithographic printing in four to six colors, yielding remarkable likenesses of the original photographs in the Gilman collection. This beautifully printed book is limited to an edition of 1,200 copies with a slipcase; this is copy number 255.
For the duration of In Focus: Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital, curators will turn the page of this book every day to show a different photograph from the Gilman collection.
George Handy Bates Samoan papers : Series III. Photographs, 1871-1889. Digital collection created from the original archival material housed in Special Collections, University of Delaware Library. George Handy Bates papers, gift of Daniel Moore Bates
Using contemporary technology and highlighting the role of digitization for preservation and access, this digital picture frame showcases 140 images from the photography series in the George Handy Bates Samoan papers. The images shown here were scanned from original albumen print photographs, 1871-1889, of the people and scenic views of Fiji, Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa, Pago Pago, Tahiti, and Tonga. The original photographs, many of them albumen prints from the Burton Bros. photographers (Dunedin, 1866-1916), were mounted on both sides of highly acidic and warped board stock. Digitization of this series was an important preservation measure, but this has also allowed worldwide access to the images. The Bates Samoan photographs series was one of the first digital collections produced by the University of Delaware Library.
In 1886, President Grover Cleveland appointed George Handy Bates, a Delaware lawyer, as a special agent to investigate the conditions in Samoa. Bates was subsequently appointed as a United States Commissioner to the 1889 Joint Conference on Samoan Affairs held in Berlin. As a special envoy he participated in the negotiations with England and Germany over the ownership of the Island of Samoa. His papers are valuable for studying the culture and history of Samoa, particularly during the 1880s. The issues of colonialism and foreign intervention are chronicled in these papers, richly illustrated by the photograph series with images of kings Lunalilo and Kalakaua (Hawaii), King Malietoa and Chief Asi (Samoa), Samoan women, Hawaiian and Samoan homes, a lava flow in 1871, panoramic views of Pago Pago and Fiji, ships of the U.S. Navy, diplomats at the Berlin Conference, and various other subjects. Many of the photographs were taken by the Burton Brothers of New Zealand, who pioneered documentary photography with a mobile darkroom that allowed them to more quickly and efficiently capture images such as those shown here.
Victorian photographs of famous men and fair women ; with introductions by Virginia Woolf and Roger Fry. London : Leonard and Virginia Woolf, 1926.
This edition was limited to 450 numbered copies for sale in Great Britain, of which this is number 196.
British photographer Julia Margaret Pattle Cameron was innovative and unconventional in her approach to portraiture, with pictorial effects and soft focus among the most discussed aspects of her technique. Cameron’s portraits typically have an out-of-focus quality, which caused some of her contemporaries to criticize her for a presumed lack of technical prowess. Wet collodion negatives, from which she made her prints, were capable of producing images of great clarity and detail, hence the consternation with her unusually artistic approach.
Cameron, who began photographing in 1863 after the gift of a camera from her daughter, made iconic portraits of artists and writers that included Alfred Lord Tennyson and George Frederick Watts and many others in her social circle. The esteemed scientist Sir John Herschel, an old friend whom she photographed, is credited with coining the term “photography” (light writing) and was the first to describe and send Cameron the first photographs that she had ever seen. Among her early subjects (1864) was her niece, Julia Jackson Duckworth, the mother of Virginia Woolf, who was also photographed later by Cameron. In her introduction to this collection, Woolf noted Cameron’s intention “to overcome realism” with her soft focus in portraiture, and Bloomsbury art critic Roger Fry remarked on Cameron’s arresting capture of character through form and light. Shown here is Cameron's portrait of British botanist and explorer Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817-1911).
Ruth Almond of Elberton Georgia, age 14 years, February 1917. G. Burton Pearson, Jr., papers, gift of the Pearson family
This carbon print portrait of a Pearson family friend is stunning for its technical detail and capture of a beautiful young lady in her teenage finery at a time not long before America’s entry into World War I. Portrait photography, by preserving the images of loved ones, played an enormous role in the technical, commercial, and artistic development of photography as well as the popular acquisition of photographs by individuals. In Focus: Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital features family portraiture from three archival collections featured in the Main Gallery, as well as other notable selections of portrait photography by Cecil Beaton, Carl Van Vechten, Karl Bissinger, Rollie McKenna, Allen Ginsberg, Cherie Nutting, and others in the Reading Room of Special Collections.
Paris 1962. First edition. New York : Empire Editions, 2007. gift of Catherine Johnson
On assignment for Esquire, fashion photographer and filmmaker Jerry Schatzberg documented the glamour of French haute couture 1962, including photographs of Yves St. Laurent’s first work after leaving the House of Dior. With behind-the-scenes access, Schatzberg shot models, the exclusive audience, and working photographers alike, capturing the high drama of the runway and “the essence of the period’s style and grace.”
Designed by Bridget DeSocio, this deluxe edition was limited to 500 autographed copies in a clamshell box with an original print, signed by the photographer. This is copy 492.
Meskel Demera : the finding of the True Cross. Photographs and woodcuts by Peter Bogardus ; commentary by Zelalem Haile Michael. New York : Khelcom Press, 2008.
Bogardus’s Meskel Demera is one part of a trilogy about spiritual life in Ethiopia. Bogardus joined pilgrimages as an expression of faith, during which he created reflections in text and photographs as the source of his trilogy. Ge’ez—used in the text of this volume—is the language of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, having been adopted as a written form for scripture in the fourth century when Christianity was introduced in Ethiopia.
Photogravure, the process that Bogardus used to print his evocative photographs in this book, is a true continuous-tone ink printing technique and also is the same process used by Pictorialists in the late nineteenth century that widely established artistic credibility for photography. Bogardus, an American who traveled the world with his family as a child in the 1960s, studied art at Hampshire College, where he apprenticed to noted sculptor and print-maker Leonard Baskin, and at the New York Academy of Art and the International Center of Photography.
The copper photogravure plates for Bogardus’s photographs in this book were made at Jon Goodman Photogravure and printed on Kochi Mashi paper at Khelcom, New York. The pictorial woodcuts, derived from Ge’ez scrolls, and xylographic text, from the Sink Sar, were printed by Takuji Hamanaka. This is the artist’s autograph copy, number 14 from an edition of 52.
“The Beatles Banner.” Look, January 9, 1968. William I. Homer papers, gift of William I. Homer
American fashion and portrait photographer Richard Avedon’s work influenced pop culture and style in the latter half of the twentieth century. His fashion credits include Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and he famously photographed Brooke Shields for Calvin Klein. Avedon’s style of fashion photography deviated from the expressionless model and encouraged emotion. He documented the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, during which time he also photographed the iconic “Beatles Banner.” Taken in 1967, Avedon’s portraits of The Beatles became one of the first series of rock posters. This issue also features the group’s psychedelic pop-art portraits.
“The Citizens of Newark Banner.” Newark, Del. : Wallflowers Press, 2007. gift of Ray Nichols and Jill Cypher, Lead Graffiti
Documentary photography captures the look and feel of time, place, and historic events. Book designers Ray Nichols and Jill Cypher sought a way to make citizens of Newark feel a part of the city’s history as they planned layouts for the collaborative book celebrating Newark’s 250th anniversary. Nichols and Cypher opened a walk-in studio on Main Street and more than 3,700 Newarkers “got in line” to be photographed for Histories of Newark, 1758-2008 : seventy-five stories about Newark, Delaware, and its citizens. A photographic ribbon of people flows across all 283 pages of the book, which included chapters written by 75 individuals.
Nova reperta : new discoveries and inventions. New Haven, Conn. : JAB Books, 1999.
The edition consists of 75 copies of which this is number 11. All copies are signed by the artists.
Nova reperta (“new discoveries”) began in 1993 as part of a Smithsonian project to respond to works in the Bern Dibner Library of Science and Technology. Drucker and Freeman’s response echoed key themes found in a sixteenth-century work of the same title by Johannes Stradanus (1523-1605). Stradanus’s suite of engravings celebrated the technological “discoveries and inventions” that shaped his modern times, including advancements in printing technology such as the copper plate engravings that facilitated mass reproduction of the images used in his work.
Drucker and Freeman’s Nova Reperta (1999) is a re-imagining of technological advances in the twenty-first century, conceived as a meditation on the moral, social, financial, and environmental costs of such progress. Drucker and Freeman created a dialogue, pairing text with photomontage in a poetic exchange that reflects the integration of modern technology into the human landscape. On the inclusion of the text, Drucker and Freeman noted that “[t]he photographic document is unable to reveal the unseen networks that systematize relations of power in contemporary culture, so that the text functions to replace some of what is missing from the image, reinforcing the realization that in a society of spectacle, images offer an appearance that obfuscates rather than reveals the complexities of lived reality.”
Shown here is an image of New York’s Grand Central Station.