Past Picture: Photography and the Chemistry of Intention
From William Henry Fox Talbot’s earliest “photogenic drawings” and Charles Nègre’s translation of photographic images into a variety of mechanical processes, to the photogram process that was a staple for Man Ray, Dada and the Surrealists, Past Picture draws from the extraordinary holdings of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographs in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada to present prints and images by some of photography’s most innovative and influential inventors and practitioners. The photographs on viewrepresent key aesthetic and philosophical sensibilities of some 150 years of photographic production. What becomes clear in vintage Canotypes by Anna Atkins from the mid-1800s to Paul Outerbridge, Jr.’s influential work from the 1920s is that from its nascency the medium originally forged on the dynamic interaction between light, chemistry, and paper has long also held a particularly intimate relationship with the things of the world. Whether challenging the accepted order of things, or elevating the everyday to something sublime, formal composition and the photographic arrangement, cropping, and/or abstraction of everyday objects were key for those artists who used the medium not so much as a means to represent the world but rather to transform it. The vision and processes expressed by the photographers, inventors and above all artists in Past Picture continue to inspire and influence those taking the lens-based image into the 21st century.
Organized by the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art