Barnes Foundation explores history of photography

The Barnes Foundation has a new exhibition that explores the history of photography.

Titled "From Today, Painting is Dead", it includes nearly 250 photographs taken from around 1840 to 1890.

"Photographers in these early years tried to make pictures that looked like paintings," explains Thom Collins, Executive Director and President of The Barnes Foundation.

The art form was created and evolved in Britain and France but photographers in those early days would travel.

"To places like Greece and Rome," Collins says. "Africa and to Asia where photographers were making the first photographs and bringing them back to Europe."

By the 1850s, getting your picture taken had become much more affordable than having your portrait painted.

"We see a lot of portraits of anonymous people," Collins says, pointing to finely detailed daguerreotypes included in the exhibition.

But the early cameras were big and cumbersome and did not make the art easy.

"It could take minutes of exposure time just to make one picture," Collins points out. "Who could stay still for that long?"

So a rather macabre genre known as memorial photography became popular. "It's where people would be photographed shortly after their death, on their death beds," Collins says.

A memorial photograph of Victor Hugo, author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables is the exhibit's most famous example of this.

"So many people idolized Victor Hugo," Collins says.

There are also memorial photographs of events like The Valley of the Shadow of Death, taken in 1855 after an early battle in the Crimean War.

"It is a very powerful, very compelling picture," Collins says, "It implies the devastation of war, without actually depicting any human figures."

For visitors, it's a chance to see a number of photographs that have never before been shown, "if they try to imagine the impact of these photographs when they were first made, they were like magic," Collins says.

The photographs in the exhibition are drawn from the collection of Michael Mattis and Judy Hochberg.

From Today, Painting is Dead (Thru May 12)| Exhibit tickets
Barnes Foundation

2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy
Philadelphia, PA 19130
215-278-7000
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