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In the galleries: Anna Atkins’s “Peacock Feathers” and Anna Krachey’s “Filament”

By Abigail Cain

Anna Krachey, "Filament," 2012. Courtesy of artist.
Anna Krachey, "Filament," 2012. Courtesy of artist.
Anna Atkins, "Peacock Feathers."
Anna Atkins, "Peacock Feathers."

Although Anna Atkins and Anna Krachey share a first name, Krachey acknowledges a much deeper connection. A member of Austin-based artist collective Lakes Were Rivers, Krachey came across Atkins’s work in the Ransom Center’s collections. She noticed an exploration of light, layering, and space that was similar to her own photographic practice.

Such connections form the basis of the Ransom Center’s current exhibition, Contemporary Photographic Practice and the Archive. Created in collaboration with Lakes Were Rivers, the exhibition highlights members’ works that were influenced in some way by the Ransom Center. Approximately 50 new works are displayed alongside Ransom Center collection materials chosen by the artists. The pairings illustrate how archives and cultural collections stimulate new ideas and creative acts.

Atkins, born in 1799 in England, was an amateur botanist. She is known primarily for her thousands of cyanotypes, which often featured marine botanicals and other plants and objects. Peacock Feathers offers an example of the camera-less photographic technique—one that provided a new way of recording scientific specimens, different from the traditional letterpress method.

Krachey recognizes a similarity between Atkins’s choice of subject and her own process of identifying and selecting objects for photographs. She aims to reveal the unfamiliar in everyday objects by creating tension between the natural and the artificial. In her work Filament (2012), she plays with tactility, translucency, and composition, using analog rather than digital photographic methods to manipulate objects and create illusionistic space.

Both Filament and Peacock Feathers are on display through August 4. On this Thursday, July 18, the artists of Lakes Were Rivers will discuss their work at 7 p.m. in the galleries.

In the galleries: Jason Reed’s "Motel, Terlingua" and W. D. Smithers’s "View of Study Butte, Texas"

By Abigail Cain

Jason Reed, "Motel, Terlingua," 2011. Courtesy of artist.
Jason Reed, "Motel, Terlingua," 2011. Courtesy of artist.
W.D. Smithers, "View of Study Butte, Texas," 1932.
W.D. Smithers, "View of Study Butte, Texas," 1932.

As photographer Jason Reed sat in the reading room of the Ransom Center, awaiting a box of Walker Evans photographs, he noticed a binder on the reference shelf nearby. In what he calls a “moment of coincidence,” he picked it up and discovered notes and captions describing photographs of West Texas—both the place he grew up and the area he has spent his life exploring through video and photography.

The binder contained a finding aid to the work of early-twentieth-century photographer W. D. Smithers, whose archive is held by the Ransom Center. Although 80 years separate the two artists, their work shares an uncanny similarity—take Reed’s Motel, Terlingua (2011) and Smithers’s View of Study Butte, Texas (1932) as an example.

The relationship between archives and the work of modern-day artists is the subject of the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Contemporary Photographic Practice and the Archive. Created in conjunction with the Lakes Were Rivers collective, an Austin-based group of artists working in photography and video, the exhibition highlights members’ works that were influenced in some way by the Ransom Center. Approximately 50 new works are displayed alongside Ransom Center collection materials chosen by the artists.

Smithers began his career in commercial photography when he was 15 years old, eventually working as an aerial photographer for the U.S. Army Aviation Service during World War I. Between 1935 and 1939, under a contract with the International Boundary and Water Commission, Smithers photographed the entire U.S.-Mexican Border from Brownsville to San Diego.

Reed, too, focuses on the interplay between culture and land in the Texas-Mexico borderland. By pairing his and Smithers’s works, he said, “I work to elicit historical comparison and dialogue with the past while also creating space to reflect on photography’s role as an index of place and time, its inherent limitations in telling histories, and the archive as a catalyst in forming new ways of seeing.”

Motel, Terlingua and View of Study Butte, Texas are on display in the Ransom Center until August 4. On July 18, the artists of Lakes Were Rivers will discuss their work at 7 p.m. in the galleries.

In the galleries: Alvin Langdon Coburn’s "Vortograph" and Barry Stone’s "Sky 3099"

By Abigail Cain

Barry Stone, "Sky 3099," 2012. Courtesy of artist.
Barry Stone, "Sky 3099," 2012. Courtesy of artist.
Alvin Langdon Coburn, "Vortograph," 1917.
Alvin Langdon Coburn, "Vortograph," 1917.

Although almost a century separates Alvin Langdon Coburn’s Vortograph (1917) and Barry Stone’s Sky 3099 (2012), Stone still finds parallels between the works. It is this connection between old and new that informs the Ransom Center’s current exhibition, Contemporary Photographic Practice and the Archive.

Created in conjunction with the Lakes Were Rivers collective, an Austin-based group of artists working in photography and video, the exhibition highlights members’ works that were influenced in some way by the Ransom Center. Approximately 50 new works are displayed alongside Ransom Center collection materials chosen by the artists. The pairings illustrate how archives and cultural collections stimulate new ideas and creative acts.

Widely acknowledged as the first consciously created abstract photographs, Coburn’s vortographs were taken using a kaleidoscope-like instrument that fit over the lens of a camera to reflect and fracture the image. Their name comes from the term “Vorticist,” which describes an avant-garde British artistic and literary movement spearheaded by Wyndham Lewis and influenced by Cubism.

In many ways, Coburn’s earlier technical photographic experiments mirror Stone’s current work—black-and-white digital captures of landscapes in which Stone has altered the image file’s code or machine language in a text-editing program. This process, called databending, creates visual hiccups within the otherwise unaltered image. Stone’s Sky 3099 provides an example of the technique, billowing clouds interrupted by swaths of visual static. As the artist notes, “The noise, therefore, becomes more like the signal. The anomaly or glitch is assimilated into the image and reveals not only the methods of its assembly but also a glimpse of new perceptual possibilities.”

Both Sky 3099 and Vortograph are on display through August 4. On July 18, the artists of Lakes Were Rivers will discuss their work at 7 p.m. in the galleries.

Registration opens for photography symposium “Magnum Photos into the Digital Age”

By Jennifer Tisdale

Image credit: Jonas Bendiksen, “Russia. Altai Territory. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region’s future due to the toxic rocket fuel,” 2000. © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos.
Image credit: Jonas Bendiksen, “Russia. Altai Territory. Villagers collecting scrap from a crashed spacecraft, surrounded by thousands of white butterflies. Environmentalists fear for the region’s future due to the toxic rocket fuel,” 2000. © Jonas Bendiksen/Magnum Photos.

The Harry Ransom Center presents the symposium “Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.” Scheduled for October 25–27, the symposium will be held in conjunction with the Ransom Center’s upcoming fall exhibition Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age.

The symposium brings together photographers, curators, and historians to discuss the ways in which Magnum Photos has continually reinvented itself from the moment of its founding.

Symposium registration information, including registration, is available online.

Twelve Magnum photographers — Christopher Anderson, Bruno Barbey, Thomas Dworzak, Eli Reed, Jim Goldberg, Josef Koudelka, Susan Meiselas, Mark Power, Moises Saman, Alec Soth, Chris Steele-Perkins, and Donovan Wylie — as well as Magnum CEO Giorgio Psacharopulo, are scheduled to appear in panel discussions with a focus on the cooperative’s evolution and future.

Panel moderators will be Kristen Lubben, associate curator at the International Center of Photography, New York; Anne Wilkes Tucker, Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; David Little, curator of photography and new media at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Stuart Alexander, independent curator and international specialist, photographs, Christie’s, New York; and Jessica S. McDonald, Nancy Inman and Marlene Nathan Meyerson Curator of Photography at the Ransom Center. They will be joined by keynote speaker Fred Ritchin, a professor of photography and imaging at New York University’s (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts and co-director of the NYU/Magnum Foundation Photography and Human Rights educational program.

The Magnum Photos Inc. photography collection resides at the Ransom Center courtesy of MSD Capital, Michael and Susan Dell, Glenn and Amanda Fuhrman, and John and Amy Phelan.

From the Outside In: "Horse in Motion," Eadweard Muybridge, ca. 1886

By Edgar Walters

Eadweard Muybridge. "Horse in Motion," Photography collection, Harry Ransom Center.
Eadweard Muybridge. "Horse in Motion," Photography collection, Harry Ransom Center.

The atria on the first floor of the Ransom Center are surrounded by windows featuring etched reproductions of images from the collections. The windows offer visitors a hint of the cultural treasures to be discovered inside. From the Outside In is a series that highlights some of these images and their creators. Interact with all of the windows at From the Outside In: A Visitor’s Guide to the Windows

It may come as a surprise in the twenty-first century to discover that in the 1880s, details of how objects move were unknown. The human eye, unaided, cannot resolve the details of fast motion. Eadweard Muybridge and his experiments with motion photography—such as this series of pictures of a horse’s gait—helped solve this mystery.

Born Edward Muggeridge in 1830 at Kingston upon Thames, upriver from London, he was unsatisfied with life in the small English town, and by 1850 he had left to make his fortune in the United States. Little is known about him until he arrived in San Francisco, California, five years later. In 1855, the city of San Francisco had been settled only six years prior, and it provided the wide-open possibilities for which the young man was looking. After a short time as a bookseller, and a change to the more striking name by which he is known today, he took up photography from a daguerreotypist and worked for the photographer Carleton Watkins. He made coastal surveys, and soon he had gained fame for his spectacular images of Yosemite and Alaska.

His most famous work began in 1872 when he was hired by Leland Stanford (later the founder of Stanford University) to photograph horses. Stanford reputedly had made a bet that for a moment, all four of a racehorse’s hooves are off the ground simultaneously, and he hired Muybridge to take the pictures to prove him right. This was difficult to do with the cameras of the time, and the initial experiments produced only indistinct images. The photographer then became distracted when he discovered that his young wife had taken a lover and may even have had their child by him. Muybridge tracked down the lover, shot, and killed him. When Muybridge stood trial, he did not deny the killing, but he was acquitted nonetheless. Muybridge left San Francisco and spent two years in Guatemala. On his return, Muybridge resumed his photography of horses in motion, this time far more successfully. He set up a row of cameras with tripwires, each of which would trigger a picture for a split second as the horse ran by. The results settled the debate once and for all: all four hooves do leave the ground at once, as the top middle image in this sequence demonstrates.

Muybridge spent the rest of his career improving his technique, making a huge variety of motion studies, lecturing, and publishing. As a result of his motion studies, he is regarded as one of the fathers of the motion picture. Just as Niépce’s First Photograph had, Muybridge’s motion studies showed the way to a new art form. At the end of his life, Muybridge returned to England, where he died in 1904.

The window images show a few of the plates from Muybridge’s collection Animal Locomotion, held by the Ransom Center. The Center also has a number of individual images by Muybridge in the forms of nitrate negatives, lantern slides, and stereoscopic prints.

Ransom Center volunteer Alan Herbert wrote this post.

From the Outside In: "Migrant Mother," Dorothea Lange, 1936

By Edgar Walters

Dorothea Lange, "Migrant Mother," Gernsheim collection, Harry Ransom Center.
Dorothea Lange, "Migrant Mother," Gernsheim collection, Harry Ransom Center.

The atria on the first floor of the Ransom Center are surrounded by windows featuring etched reproductions of images from the collections. The windows offer visitors a hint of the cultural treasures to be discovered inside. From the Outside In is a series that highlights some of these images and their creators. Interact with all of the windows at From the Outside In: A Visitor’s Guide to the Windows

This powerful portrait depicts the weariness of a hard existence in poverty. Florence Owens, the migrant mother of the title, crouches in the foreground flanked by two of her children, their faces hidden. Her eyes seem not to be directed outward, perhaps contemplating an uncertain future with little hope.

The photographer, Dorothea Lange, was born in 1895 and contracted polio in childhood, leaving her with a lasting limp. She believed that this impairment increased her empathy for those down on their luck. Her photographic career began at a New York portrait studio in 1914, and she studied at Columbia University under Clarence White. She then moved to San Francisco to do freelance photography until 1919, when she opened her own portrait studio. During the Great Depression, however, fewer people had money to spend on portraits, and Lange moved to Taos, New Mexico, where she began work with several of the New Deal projects.

Owens lived a very different life. Of Cherokee descent, she worked as a pea picker in California. She had six children by 1932, and on remarriage, three more arrived. In 1935, however, the pea crop failed, and the family was forced to sell their tent to get food. In the following year, when Owens was 32, Lange arrived on assignment for the Federal Resettlement Administration and met the family. She took six photographs of Owens, including Migrant Mother. It was published in a number of magazines, including as a full-page image in the September 1936 issue of Survey Graphic.

Despite the image’s fame, Owens never profited personally from her portraits. In middle age, she often acted as the straw boss—the one who negotiated wages—for her fellow migrant workers, and she continued to work in the fields until the age of about 50. She married again and settled down with her new husband in Modesto, California. Despite the difficulty of much of her life, she lived to be 80; she died of cancer and heart problems in September 1983, survived by many of her children.

The Ransom Center’s photography collection holds the work of important early-twentieth-century documentary photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, as well as the more recent work of the Magnum Photos agency.

Ransom Center volunteer Alan Herbert wrote this post.

From the Outside In: "Milk Drop Coronet," Harold Edgerton, 1936

By Edgar Walters

© Harold Edgerton, "Milk Drop Coronet," 2013. Courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.
© Harold Edgerton, "Milk Drop Coronet," 2013. Courtesy of Palm Press, Inc.

The atria on the first floor of the Ransom Center are surrounded by windows featuring etched reproductions of images from the collections. The windows offer visitors a hint of the cultural treasures to be discovered inside. From the Outside In is a series that highlights some of these images and their creators. Interact with all of the windows at From the Outside In: A Visitor’s Guide to the Windows

This simple image captures a milk drop as it strikes a thin layer of milk. The photographer Harold Edgerton maintained that he was a scientist rather than an artist, but he and his colleagues nonetheless produced many stunning pictures, of which Milk Drop is but one. National Geographic called him “the man who made time stand still.”

Harold Eugene Edgerton (1903–1990) graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Nebraska and continued his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). For his doctoral thesis, he used strobe lights to study electric motors and the motion of everyday events. Among his early works are renowned photos of a balloon bursting and bullets penetrating apples. In 1947 he founded his own company, EG&G, which, among other things, supplied special cameras for recording nuclear explosions. He also contributed to the development of side-scan sonar and worked with Jacques Cousteau to provide lighting for undersea filming. Over the course of his career, Edgerton received most of the honors possible for a technical wizard, including the National Medal of Science and the Royal Photographic Society’s Bronze Medal.

He taught at MIT for many years, and in 1992 the Edgerton Center, devoted to hands-on engineering and technical education, was named in his honor.

The most eye-catching of Edgerton’s contributions was his spectacular stop-motion photography. The human eye cannot time-resolve events shorter than a fraction of a second, which is why movies appear to be continuous, rather than the sequence of still images that they really are. Edgerton’s discoveries and inventions enabled him to reduce photographic exposure times to less than a millionth of a second. He achieved this feat by opening a camera’s shutter in a darkened space, generating a flash of light to expose the film, and then closing the shutter. With associated electronics, he could control both the brightness and duration of the flash, creating a very brief light that, by coincidence, had a color similar to daylight. The challenge was to trigger this flash at just the right moment. It is said that Edgerton tried many times to produce a symmetrical version of Milk Drop, but he was never completely successful.

The Ransom Center holds a collection of 35 of Edgerton’s prints from throughout his career. His primary archive is housed at MIT. The book Stopping Time: The Photographs of Harold Edgerton provides a comprehensive account of his work.

Ransom Center volunteer Alan Herbert wrote this post.

“Arnold Newman: At Work” explores photographer through his archive

By Ady Wetegrove

Cover of "Arnold Newman: At Work" by Roy Flukinger.
Cover of "Arnold Newman: At Work" by Roy Flukinger.

In conjunction with the exhibition Arnold Newman: Masterclass, University of Texas Press and the Ransom Center have published Arnold Newman: At Work by Ransom Center Senior Research Curator of Photography Roy Flukinger. Featuring an introductory essay by photo historian Marianne Fulton, the illustrated volume includes Newman’s iconic images alongside his contact sheets, Polaroids, and work prints complete with handwritten notes and marginalia. Providing a contextual overview of the Ransom Center’s Newman archive, the book reveals insights into Newman’s process. The book also includes Newman’s lesser known collages, commercial work, and cityscapes.

Drawing extensively from the Ransom Center’s Newman archive, the book is a rich collection of materials ranging from personal documents—such as Augusta and Arnold Newman’s holiday cards, travel ledgers, and copies of passports and pocketbooks—to some of Newman’s most iconic images. Readers can track the creative process from contact sheets with the photographer’s notes and cropping instructions to the eventual final selection and enlargement.

For Newman, a single session with the sitter was only the beginning of the creative process. Newman’s attentive markups and anecdotes litter the edges of countless contact sheets, and work prints from a portrait sitting allow readers to see how Newman approached his subject and found ways to reveal his or her character. Newman would take 10, 20, 30 and in some cases more than 50 individual photographs of a sitter, making minor adjustments each time. Though highly significant, the differences between the frames are often miniscule, but the variation in their impact can be dramatic.

The Center’s Newman archive contains all of Newman’s negatives, slides and color transparencies, all of his original contact sheets, and more than two thousand prints, including examples of color and collage work. The collection also includes Newman’s original sittings books, correspondence and business files, early sketchbooks and photographic albums.

Read an excerpt from Marianne Fulton’s introduction to the book, which is available for purchase in the Ransom Center’s online store or at the visitors desk during gallery hours. Arnold Newman: Masterclass runs through May 12.

Seminar exposes students to the Ransom Center’s photography holdings

By Ady Wetegrove

Dr. Sherre L. Paris—lecturer at The University of Texas School of Journalism—teaches her undergraduate class “A Cultural History of Photography” at the Ransom Center. During the three-hour-long-seminar, which meets every Tuesday in a classroom adjacent to the Ransom Center’s Reading Room, undergraduates work with primary source materials from the Center’s photography collections. “Cultural Compass” spoke with Dr. Paris about her experience teaching at the Ransom Center.