Inaugural exhibition in Eugene V. Thaw Gallery is part of November 12 celebration of Manton Research Center opening
For Immediate Release 
October 21, 2016
Williamstown, Massachusetts—When photographs were first widely produced and distributed during the second half of the nineteenth century, they offered viewers new ways to discover unknown people, places, and things. Photography and Discovery, on view at the Clark Art Institute November 12, 2016–February 5, 2017, explores how photographers considered these subjects during the medium’s first seventy-five years. The exhibition—the first presented in the Eugene V. Thaw Gallery for Works on Paper in the newly renovated Manton Research Center—is the first extensive presentation of the Clark’s growing collection of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century photography.

“The Clark has built a significant collection of early photography over the past eighteen years. This is the first time that the very best of the collection will be on view and the subject of a featured exhibition,” said Jay A. Clarke, Manton Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. “It is an important moment for the Clark as the Eugene V. Thaw Gallery for Works on Paper in the Manton Research Center opens. This new gallery will allow curators at the Clark, working along with Williams College graduate students, to organize exhibitions revolving around our rich collection of prints, drawings, and photographs from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries.” The gallery will be open during regular museum hours.
On view are approximately forty-five works by American and European artists including Francis Frith (English, 1822–1898), Gertrude Käsebier (American, 1852–1934), Heinrich Kühn (Austrian, 1866–1944), Gustave Le Gray (French, 1820–1884), Charles Nègre (French, 1820–1880), William Henry Fox Talbot (English, 1800–1877), and Linnaeus Tripe (English, 1822–1902). The exhibition also includes works on loan from the Troob Family Foundation and selections from the Clark’s David A. Hanson Collection of the History of Photomechanical Reproduction.
“We are delighted to open the Eugene V. Thaw Gallery for Works on Paper with this exhibition from the Clark’s photography collection,” said Olivier Meslay, the Felda and Dena Hardymon Director of the Clark. “The photographs in this show are remarkable for their artistry, their technical achievement, and the subjects they
document. These works inspire us to consider the ways in which early photographers shaped a new art form as they captured images of the world in an entirely new way.”
About the Exhibition
The exhibition presents the photographs in groupings focused on people, places, or things and studies the ways in which the new medium educated and enlightened a worldwide audience. From intimate family portraits to majestic views of distant lands, photographs allowed individuals to view the world in a more immediate and realistic way. In addition to considering the subjects the photographs document, the exhibition studies the techniques and artistic license employed by early photographers.
While today it is commonplace to snap a family photograph, there was a time when it was considered a luxury. Daguerreotypes were less expensive than a commissioned painting, and as a result, photo studios were set up all over Europe and America in the 1850s to create portraits such as Family, Rochester, New York (artist unknown, 1850s). This middle-class family likely dressed in their best attire and had the portrait taken for a special occasion.
By 1900 family portraiture merged with artistic photography as practitioners such as Gertrude Käsebier used family members to pose for works that were marketed as fine art. In Hermione Turner and Her Children (c. 1910), the photographer’s daughter and grandchildren are bathed in sunlight that filters through a curtained window behind them. While Käsebier made money photographing wealthy aristocrats, she earned her reputation as a creative photographer with images that bridged portraiture and scenes from everyday life.
Photographic portraits were also staged in response to market demands. Roger Fenton, having gained acclaim for his documentary images of the Crimean War, returned to London to begin a career as a professional photographer. Fenton’s Orientalist Study (1858) capitalized on the fashionable trend of collecting images of the people, customs, and costumes of Egypt, Asia, and the Middle East. The image, one of a series taken in his London studio, features posed and costumed men and women. Henri Béchard (French, active in Egypt, late nineteenth century) set up a practice in Cairo, Egypt, with the express purpose of creating images of local people and indigenous architecture to sell to both tourists and French artists seeking to incorporate elements of Middle Eastern life in their paintings. Béchard’s Water Carrier, Cairo (c. 1875) depicts an Egyptian man posed carrying a waterskin.
From the pyramids of Egypt to the waterfalls of California, images of sites around the world were captured by nineteenth-century photographers for many purposes, including objective documentation, scientific exploration, and political influence. Linnaeus Tripe, a captain in the British army, became an official photographer for the British government as it expanded its colonial reach throughout India. In 1855 Tripe accompanied an expedition that sought further annexation under British rule. His commission was to produce photographic surveys of architecture in Burma (modern-day Myanmar). While his role was ostensibly to document, Tripe selected dramatic views and used modern compositional devices in Amerapoora. A Street in the City (1855) to create his image of Burmese Buddhist architecture. Tripe also often retouched his negatives and printed his photographs with evocatively grainy textures and artfully manipulated skies.
Similarly, Francis Frith strove to document The Pyramids of El-Geezeh (1858) for his publication Egypt, Sinai and Jerusalem: A Series of Twenty Photographic Views (1858), marketed to armchair travelers in England. He created glass plates under difficult circumstances, coating them with albumen emulsions in extremely high temperatures and developing them in a makeshift cart. In contrast to Frith’s efforts, amateur photographers like Félix Thiollier (French, 1842–1914) could take and process photographs with relative ease and speed using the gelatin silver print process. Whereas Frith’s and Tripe’s subjects had to remain still to be transferred to a photographic negative, the factory smoke billowing in the background and the moving figures in the foreground of Thiollier’s Universal Exhibition, Paris 1900 (c. 1900/14) could be transferred to a negative in an instant.
During the early years of photography, inanimate objects were represented frequently for both logistical and aesthetic purposes. Given the long exposure times needed for salt and albumen prints, subjects needed to be immobile for several minutes. Therefore, still lifes, sculptures, and similarly motionless objects gave the photographer a certain advantage. William Henry Fox Talbot’s Articles of China (1844) was published in The Pencil of Nature, one of the earliest photographically illustrated publications. The text accompanying the image suggests it is an example of forensic photography, arguing that the photograph could serve as an inventory of objects or as a piece of evidence used in court in order to catch a thief.
Later in the nineteenth century, photographers’ ambitions and processes changed as did the perceived value of photography as an art form. Heinrich Kühn (Austrian, born Germany, 1866–1944) sought to push the creative boundaries of photography by manipulating the traditionally sharp-focused negative to create a unique, subjective expression. His Still Life with Carnations (1896), although created with a negative, was manipulated on the plate and printed in a lush red-orange, producing what has been termed an Impressionist photograph.
Crowd-sourced Photography
As photographic tools have changed from paper negatives and daguerreotypes to digital cameras and cell phones, people are increasingly using photography as a means of engaging with the world around them. To complement the historical photographs in the exhibition, the Clark is hosting a public curation of contemporary images of people, places, and things. Photographers of all abilities are encouraged to submit images to be considered for inclusion in a presentation that will be featured in the exhibition. Each photograph submitted must feature a person, in a place, with a thing. (For example, an image could feature a child standing atop the Empire State Building holding a toy.)
Images selected for display will also be included in an online album on the Clark’s website ( To participate, either post photographs to Facebook or Instagram tagged as #clarkphoto or send via email to [email protected]
Photography and Discovery is supported by a grant from the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation.
About the Works on Paper Collection
The Clark's collection of more than six thousand prints, drawings, and photographs spans the history of the graphic arts from the fifteenth century through the early twentieth century. The collection includes significant concentrations of work by Albrecht Dürer, Claude Lorraine, John Constable, Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Winslow Homer. The Clark's small but important group of pastels by Degas, Camille Pissarro, Mary Cassatt, and Jean-François Millet are also housed in the Manton Study Center for Works on Paper. In 1998 the Clark began a major initiative to establish a core collection of European and American photography from the 1840s through the 1910s. The collection now numbers more than a thousand works, echoing the strengths of the institute’s holdings in painting, sculpture, decorative arts, prints, and drawings.
The Clark Art Institute, located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, is one of a small number of institutions globally that is both an art museum and a center for research, critical discussion, and higher education in the visual arts. Opened in 1955, the Clark houses exceptional European and American paintings and sculpture, extensive collections of master prints and drawings, English silver, and early photography. Acting as convener through its Research and Academic Program, the Clark gathers an international community of scholars to participate in a lively program of conferences, colloquia, and workshops on topics of vital importance to the visual arts. The Clark library, consisting of more than 270,000 volumes, is one of the nation’s premier art history libraries. The Clark also houses and co-sponsors the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art.
The Clark is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is $20; free year-round for Clark members, children 18 and younger, and students with valid ID. For more information, visit or call 413 458 2303.
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