'Beyond Beauty' showcases photographic treasures
By Cliff Bellamy : The Herald-Sun
Jun 30, 2009
DURHAM -- A black-and-white image of Archbishop Desmond Tutu shows him participating in an anti-apartheid protest in the 1980s. Other photographs represent some of the first images taken of the United States west of the Mississippi River. Closer to home, visitors can see a panoramic photo by Durham photographer Hugh Mangum (1877-1922), taken in 1921 during a summer session at Radford Normal School.
These images are among more than 80 original photographs that go on view Thursday at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. The exhibit, "Beyond Beauty: Photographs from the Duke University Special Collections Library," represents just a small number of the images in Duke's collections, said Karen Glynn, visual materials archivist at the Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library. The exhibit also represents a wide array of subjects and historical periods, "from the Civil War to civil rights ... from apartheid to post-apartheid," she said.
On a recent day, the museum began the process of hanging the photographs for visitors to view. Sarah Schroth, the senior curator at the Nasher, said that "each inch counts" in the display process. J. Andrew Armacost, head of collection development at Duke University Libraries, commented that the tonality and sharpness of the images seen up close are beyond anything you can view in a book.
The exhibit traces the history of photographic processes, from daguerreotypes, ambrotypes and tintypes, to albumen and gelatin silver prints, to recent digital photography. A smattering of the photographers whose work is represented are Cedric Nunn, Matthew Brady, William Gedney, Eudora Welty, Elena Rue, Paul Kwilecki, Kames Karales and Alex Harris.
Trying to convey which photos are the most striking is a challenge, given the sheer number of images, and viewers bring their own tastes and viewpoints to any exhibit. There is Brady's 1863 print "Grant at Lookout Mountain," showing Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the left foreground on a ridge. One of Paul Kwilecki's photos of rural Georgia, which be began photographing in the 1960s, shows a man at a pay phone in a bus station, shadowed by sunlight through the bus station windows.
James Karales' photograph "The Selma to Montgomery Civil Rights March, 1965" ("We get a lot of requests for this," Glynn said, who calls it "an iconic photograph") is in this exhibit, as is a powerful photo by Karales that shows members of the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee undergoing passive resistance training.
Photographs by William Henry Jackson and others who first visited the western United States are interesting not just for the physical challenges of their work (they took their darkrooms with them), but for historical reasons as well, Glynn said. "We're looking at what Americans east of the Mississippi saw. It was their first look at the West." The exhibit also has two photos from the R.C. Maxwell Company, an outdoor advertising firm. Glynn said that the photographs were taken to document billboard advertising, but they also give viewers a documentary portrait of Atlantic City in the 1930s and '40s.
In addition to photography, "Beyond Beauty" will have several glass cases, which will include archival materials such as journals, notebooks and negatives. One of the cases, for example, has a journal from Gedney that he made during his travels in India, along with other artifacts. "It allows you to see how a photographer thinks," Glynn said of the Gedney display.
The exhibit also will have a slideshow of Mangum images and two video installations. One video will be a compilation of films from various countries that are part of the collection. Another video will show the works of Sidney Gamble, a photographer who made several visits to China. Between 1928 and 1932 he photographed a pilgrimage to China, and this video offers a glimpse of China prior to World War II, Glynn said. "It's a 20-minute film, and it's wonderful. It's ethereal."
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