The First World War through a Camera Lens

Soldier photographers would capture the day-to-day routine of military life. The Great War was the first conflict that would be comprehensively documented by amateur photographers. While professional lenses had captured scenes from the Crimean and the American Civil War, this was the first time that large numbers of serving men took cameras into the frontlines[…]

Photographing the Dark: Félix Nadar’s Descent into the Paris Catacombs

Today the Paris Catacombs are illuminated by electric lights and friendly guides. But when Félix Nadar descended into this “empire of death” in the 1860s artificial lighting was still in its infancy: the pioneering photographer had to face the quandary of how to take photographs in the subterranean dark. Allison C. Meier explores Nadar’s determined[…]

How Photographs of Poverty in the Americas Ignited an International Battle over Propaganda

Introduction In late July 1961, O Cruzeiro magazine—Brazil’s answer to the American magazine Life—sent photographer Henri Ballot to document poverty in New York City. Ballot’s assignment had been issued in direct response to “Freedom’s Fearful Foe: Poverty,” a photo-essay Life had published the month before featuring reporting, diary entries, and photographs by Gordon Parks about the[…]

Jacob Riis and “How the Other Half Lives”: Poverty in 19th-Century America

Riis as a writer, photographer, lecturer, advocate, and ally for reform to address the poverty many ignored. Biography Overview Jacob A. Riis (1849–1914) was born in Ribe, Denmark. He immigrated to America at age twenty with hopes of one day marrying his teenage love, Elisabeth Nielsen [Gjørtz]. Riis wandered through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New[…]

It Begins Again: “The Flávio Story” Retold

An assignment for Life magazine about poverty in Brazil introduces photographer Gordon Parks to Flávio da Silva and one of the most complicated, compelling, and revisited stories of his career. It’s easy to see the beginnings of things, as Joan Didion aptly tells us in the opening sentence of her essay “Goodbye to All That,”[…]

Matthew Brady’s Abraham Lincoln

Mathew Brady’s photographs of Lincoln were one of the major sources for press illustrations in both Europe and the United States. By Dr. Marie Cordié LevyScholar, History of Photography Introduction Understanding the medium itself—the photography and the photographer—offers an important key to understanding how the Lincoln image was constructed in Europe. This paper also investigates[…]

Why Abolitionist Frederick Douglass Loved the Photograph

He considered it the most democratic of arts and a crucial aid in the quest to end slavery and achieve civil rights. Suddenly, it seems, the camera has become a potent weapon in what many see as the beginning of a new civil rights movement. It’s become a familiar tale: Increasingly, blacks won’t leave home[…]

Camera Obscura: Accuracy and Elegance in Cheselden’s Osteographia (1733)

With its novel vignettes and its use of a camera obscura in the production of the plates, William Cheselden’s Osteographia, is recognized as a landmark in the history of anatomical illustration. Monique Kornell looks at its unique blend of accuracy and elegance. By Dr. Monique KornellIndependent Scholar of Anatomical Illustration This article, Camera Obscura: Accuracy[…]

Ottoman-Era Photographs Take on New Meaning in Their Digital Life

Thousands of images from the Pierre de Gigord Collection are now accessible online. By Isotta PoggiDepartment of Acquisitions of Exhibitions and PhotographsGetty Research Institute Introduction In the 1980s the French collector Pierre de Gigord traveled to Turkey and collected thousands of Ottoman-era photographs in a variety of media and formats. The resulting Pierre de Gigord Collection[…]

Life before the Collapse of the Soviet Union: The Photography of Henry Sara

Sara’s images defined the Soviet Union at its ‘base line’. What was life like in early Soviet Union? As Russians established the USSR after the Great War, British left-wing activist Henry Sara visited the country and, during his time there, took photographs of the people, landscape and the emerging Soviet State. Those photographs went on[…]

John Thomson’s 19th-Century Chinese Treaty-Port Imagery

Westerners were a feature of late-19th-century China, albeit a much smaller presence than Thomson would have us believe. In subscribing to the views and types protocol, Thomson was no different than most 19th-century commercial photographers working in Asia. This simple dichotomy provided a convenient means to organize and present large inventories to potential customers, and[…]

John Thomson’s China, 1873: Reframing the Past

Thomson’s photographic medium possessed qualities that draw the attention of viewers and lay claim to a degree of visual authority. Formats and Picture Size Thomson used three formats for the scenic views in Illustrations of China and Its People. The smallest images (roughly 3.5 in. square) are grouped four to a page; medium sized images[…]

The Snowflake Man of Vermont

Keith C. Heidorn takes a look at the life and work of Wilson Bentley, a self-educated farmer from a small American town who, by combining a bellows camera with a microscope, managed to photograph the dizzyingly intricate and diverse structures of the snow crystal. By Dr. Keith C. HeidornClimatologist This article, The Snowflake Man of[…]

George Platt Lynes: An Early-20th Century Gay Photographer and His Legacy

Lynes was a highly sought-after commercial and fashion photographer in the 1930s and 1940s. But he had to keep his most important body of work hidden away. From the late 1920s until his death in 1955, George Platt Lynes was one of the world’s most successful commercial and fine art photographers. His work was included[…]

Off the Record: A Photographer and Gerald Ford during a Crisis

It began with an image – the first on the White House Photography Office’s 4,527th roll of film for the Ford administration. He snaps a photograph of President Gerald Ford, who leans back in a tall Cabinet Room chair, smoking a pipe and listening intently to CIA Director Colby. The image is the first on[…]

Ottoman-Era Photographs Take on New Meaning in Their Digital Life

Thousands of images from the Pierre de Gigord Collection are now accessible online. By Isotta PoggiAcquisitions and Exhibitions of PhotographsGetty Institute In the 1980s the French collector Pierre de Gigord traveled to Turkey and collected thousands of Ottoman-era photographs in a variety of media and formats. The resulting Pierre de Gigord Collection is now housed in[…]