Interesting post today on the Smithsonian's photo blog about the photographer Thomas Smillie. I had seen his name quite a bit in the Carter's collection of photographs from the Bureau of American Ethnology, but was not aware that he was also the Smithsonian's first staff photographer and photography curator. He even acquired the first American daguerreotype equipment for the Smithsonian for a whopping $23 in 1896 (that's less than $600 adjusted for 2009 inflation!).
Here are a couple of our Thomas Smillie portraits of Native Americans, and you can see a lot more over of the Smithsonian's Smillie collection on Flickr Commons.
Thomas Smillie, Eagle Chief, collodion silver chloride print, 1905
Thomas Smillie, His Hoop or Canhdeska, albumen silver print, 1904
The U.S. declared war on Mexico on this day in 1847 after Mexico refused to recognize Texas's independence and subsequent annexation into the United States. Not only did this war finally win US control of Texas, it also resulted in the US purchase of most of the southwest (comprising five present-day states and parts of 4 others) for a mere $18 million.
The Mexican-American War was the first to be documented by the new medium of photography, as the process was perfected in France only a few years before and introduced in the US in the early 1840s. In the early 1980s, the Carter acquired a group of Mexican War daguerreotypes, which were subsequently the subject of a major exhibition called Eyewitness to War: Prints and Daguerreotypes of the Mexican War, 1846-1848.
According to the exhibition catalogue, these rare works are made more special because "daguerreotypes were made on the spot,”¦each image was exposed in the camera and developed as a unique positive. Thus every daguerreotype plate, while in the camera, was in close proximity to the subject recorded on its surface. When we hold a daguerreotype of Mexican War troops in our hand, we hold a piece of silver-plated copper that was actually on the same street as those soldiers 140 [sic] years ago." Even though I see and handle 19th century photographs all the time, that idea gives me chills.
For photo of the week, here are some of my favorite Mexican War daguerreotypes.
Artist unknown, Col. Hamtramck, Virginia Volunteers, daguerreotype, ca. 1847
Artist unknown, Mexican Family, daguerreotype, ca. 1847
Artist unknown, [Street scene in Durango, Mexico], daguerreotype, ca. 1847
Artist unknown, [Parroquia de Santiago, Saltillo, Mexico], daguerreotype, ca. 1847
Artist unknown, Burial Place of Son of Henry Clay in Mexico, daguerreotype, 1847
This is cool. PBS's contemporary art series, Art:21, is now available online on Hulu. You can watch every episode in its entirety online now, which is great because I never could seem to catch it on our local PBS station. Note that the Ecology episode in season 4 features the photographer Robert Adams, who has over 100 works in the Carter's collection. (Thanks, MAN)
Through the magic of videoconferencing technology we continue to hold discussions with educators across the country about how to creatively use the Carter’s artworks in their classrooms long after an exhibition has been removed from the galleries. This week the 2007 photography exhibition With New Eyes: Exploration and the American West inspired a professional development broadcast that served teachers from Brock to Cotulla. This program explored photographs of four nineteenth-century U.S. government surveys, and while the missions of these surveys and the resulting images are fascinating, what really intrigues me is that the images were even made in the first place.
Most of the expedition photographers created albumen silver prints (like Carleton Watkins’ Commencement of the Whitney Glacier, Summit of Mt. Shasta above) using the wet plate collodion process. The glass plates had to be prepared, the plate exposed, and the image developed---all while the plate was still wet. Watch a contemporary photographer demonstrate the process, and think about how challenging it would have been for Watkins to create his Mt. Shasta image. In fact, Watkins---who was already a veteran of expeditions through California and acclaimed for his mammoth-plate photographs of Yosemite by the time he joined Clarence King’s U.S. Geological Survey of the Fortieth Parallel---prepared a special enclosed wagon as a mobile darkroom to augment his technical facility during the arduous trek. If the process alone wasn’t difficult enough, imagine for a moment carrying around all of your glass plate negatives and all of your photographic supplies over rough, rocky terrain.
Sometimes you can even see evidence of the process in the finished prints. Look closely at Watkins’ The Shasta Buttes below. The hazy gap in the center of the photograph is the product of an uneven application of collodion.
The next time you take a picture on your digital camera or cell phone, tip your hat to those nineteenth-century photographers who needed more than a split second to compose their awe-inspiring views!
This time our photo of the week comes from the Carter's vast Eliot Porter collection. Because we have Porter's entire archive and he so diligently organized his work, we can pinpoint exactly what day he shot most of his photographs. I think we probably have at least one - and probably many more - photograph for every day of the year.
The following photo was taken on this day during Porter's 1966 expedition to the Galapagos Islands.
Eliot Porter, Fur Seal, Alcedo Camp on Isabela Island, GalÃ¡pagos Islands, May 6, 1966, dye imbibition print, bequest of the artist, ©1990 Amon Carter Museum
Just a reminder that our current special exhibition, Barbara Crane: Challenging Vision, closes this coming Sunday, May 10, to make room for our next special exhibition of works on paper from the Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African-American Art.
It is hard to believe that it was almost seven years ago that I began my internship in the Education Department at the Amon Carter Museum. I was both excited and honored to be behind the scenes at a museum whose collection and programs I had long admired. A few months later, I felt like I won the lottery when I was actually offered a full-time, paid position in the deparment. Since that time, I have had the privilege of sharing the Carter’s collection with a wide variety of audiences– tours for tots, observation programs for osteopaths, lectures for learners, fun-activities for families, and you–and have loved (almost) every minute of it.
So, as you can imagine, it is with great sadness that I say today is my last day. I am leaving the museum to spend more time with my growing family–the most precious artwork I have ever seen.
Thank you for letting me share some of my experiences with you.
Today's Photo of the Week post is inspired by my upcoming trip to see friends in Galveston this weekend. The following images of Galveston from the Carter's collection are all by Stuart Klipper, a Minneapolis-based photographer known for panoramic landscapes.
Stuart Klipper, VFW Post, 24th Street, Galveston, dye coupler print
Stuart Klipper, Box Car, off Port Industrial Boulevard, Port of Galveston, dye coupler print
Stuart Klipper, Beth Jacob Synagogue, Galveston, dye coupler print
All works are a Gift of the Texas Historical Foundation with support from a major grant from the DuPont Company and Conoco, its energy subsidiary, and assistance from the Texas Commission on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, © 1984 Stuart Klipper
Art and artists have played important roles in shaping awareness of the environment and the landscape in the United States. In the nineteenth-century, landscape paintings by Hudson River School artists illustrated and inspired our country’s desire to cherish, revel in, and use the environment. While in the twentieth century, art and the environmental movement became linked in defining wilderness and the politics of preserving it.
If you are interested in learning more about the many connections between artists and the environment, join us at 11 a.m. this Saturday for the special lecture, Land and Liberty: Environmentalism in American Art. During this free program, Dr. Todd Kerstetter, associate professor of history at Texas Christian University, will use works in the Carter's permanent collection of painting and photographs to illustrate the development of environmental thought from the 1830s through the twentieth-century environmental movement.