An "evanescent shadow, a delicate, just perceptible image, the trace of a small plant on a field of periwinkle blue." With this description of one of the very earliest photographic experiments, Maria Morris Hambourg begins the riveting story of photography's first century, a story that concludes on the eve of World War II with the dramatic photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, and Walker Evans, images imprinted indelibly into the consciousness of the modern era.
The 253 works in the exhibition, many of them rare or unique and all of exceptional print quality, have been culled from the more than five thousand that comprise the legendary but seldom exhibited Gilman Paper Company Collection, the most important private collection of photographs in the world. Assembled over the past two decades, the collection is composed of images both ravishing and historically significant, setting the standard of connoisseurship in the field and illuminating the aesthetics of the medium.
The first three chapters cover the period from the birth of photography in 1839 through its early maturation in the 1860s, in the locales where it first and most magnificently flourished, in Victorian England and France of the Second Empire and on tours of the Mediterranean basin and beyond, in India and Asia. Chapter Four examines photography in America during the nineteenth century and vividly charts the Civil War and the exploration of the majestic terrains of the American West. Investigations of the self and society are explored in Chapter Five, in the psychologically penetrating portraits and dreamlike landscape studies of the fin de siècle in Europe and America. And in Chapter Six, the modern era rushes into view with the provocative new vision of the twentieth century.
The artists represented include such renowned British and French masters as Roger Fenton, Lewis Carroll, Julia Margaret Cameron, Nadar, Édouard Baldus, and Gustave Le Gray. The American chapter highlights the work of Mathew Brady, Timothy O'Sullivan, Carleton Watkins, and many anonymous practitioners. Revealing portraits of Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, and Vaslav Nijinsky, among others, bring to life the charged atmosphere of the turn of the century. And the pioneering imagery of Man Ray, El Lissitzky, Alfred Stieglitz, Eugene Atget, Martin Munkacsi, and Alexander Rodchenko exuberantly re-creates the vitality of the twenties and thirties.
The title of the book, The Waking Dream, is taken from Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale" and suggests, in the words of Maria Morris Hambourg, "the haunting power of photographs to commingle past and present, to suspend the world and the artist's experience of it in unique distillations." Essays by Maria Morris Hambourg and Pierre Apraxine offer critical overviews of each of the six chapters, and carefully researched texts by members of the staff of the Department of Photographs at the Metropolitan Museum, enlivened by often surprising and entertaining vignettes, clarify the historical context of the photographs. Unusual attention has been given to the production of the plates, which were executed under the supervision of the innovative and highly regarded photographer and master printer Richard Benson.