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Photographers of Genius at the Getty


Manuel Alvarez Bravo
Mexican, 1902–2002

As a student of the habits and customs of the Mexican people, Alvarez Bravo sought out the visual evidence of indigenous cultural traditions. His photographs are marked by divergence and discontinuity, techniques he learned from the theories of the Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein and the French poet André Breton, who in 1938 organized an exhibition of Surrealists in Mexico City. Alvarez Bravo elevated anthropology to the level of art by framing the disparity between urban and rural realities into a poetic vision of modern Mexico, its cultural differences and social contradictions.

Diane Arbus
American, 1923–1971

In 1957, after a decade of working almost exclusively in the fashion world—where her subjects were models selected chiefly for their beauty and graceful behavior—Arbus embarked on an independent career as a documentary photographer. Free to explore the world around her, she created a body of work inspired by commonplace family snapshots. Some of her most compelling images focus on the head of a person she met on the street whose awkward expression and unusual adornment become her subject.

Eugène Atget
French, 1857–1927

Atget was concerned with traditional aspects of Parisian life that were becoming obsolete and with buildings of historical significance. Informed by his knowledge of French political and cultural history, Atget examined the textures of overlooked neighborhoods. Shunning the new handheld cameras, Atget used old-style equipment designed to make negatives on 6-by-8-inch sheets of glass. He mounted his camera on a tripod at eye level, parallel to the horizon. Atget's body of work is so consistent and full of visual delight that it established the model for how a documentary viewpoint in the 20th century can become art.

Anna Atkins
English, 1799–1871

Atkins was attracted to the study of botany and natural history at an early age. She was introduced to the art of photography by her father, George Children, a member of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. Beginning in 1842, Atkins employed the cyanotype process to create an inventory of plant specimens. She was the first person to use light-sensitive materials to catalogue objects and gather that information into books. Atkins was also the first woman to create an extensive body of photographs.

Hippolyte Bayard
French, 1801–1887

Bayard was one of the first photographers to explore the medium to express self-understanding, resulting in a number of engaging self-portraits. He was among the first photographers to observe and record the commonplace details of everyday life. Later photographers, such as Eugène Atget, who is also represented in this exhibition, shared Bayard's fascination with the topography and iconography of the city of Paris.

Henry P. Bosse
American, 1844–1903

Bosse's chief subject was the interaction between humans and nature, specifically in regard to the Mississippi River. Through photographs, Bosse illuminated the physical beauty of the great river and its surrounding landscape. He showed human attempts to control nature and how nature resists being controlled. Bosse was one of the first to create photographs that could be used as tools for natural resource planning. He took up the challenge of giving visual identity to the Mississippi River, a landscape with significant man-made alterations extending along 850 miles and across six states.

Brassaï (Gyula Halász)
French, born Hungary, 1899–1984

In photography, the name Brassaï is synonymous with Paris after dark. He established a pattern of "going to bed at sunrise, getting up at sunset," according to his friend, the writer Henry Miller, who made Brassaï a character in his novel Tropic of Cancer. Photography allowed Brassaï to describe and interpret contemporary life with a unique combination of excitement and empathy. His role was that of perceptive witness to cultural life and the forces that shape it.

Julia Margaret Cameron
British, born India, 1815–1879

Cameron, who was the mother of five children and the guardian of several others she adopted, took up photography at the age of 48. She was the first photographer to make the subjects of women and children central to her art. Her unconventional approach to process and materials inspired later photographers, who sought to emulate the painterly effects in her work. Despite their beauty and daring experimental quality, Cameron's photographs were not actively collected outside her circle of family and friends until almost a century after her death.

Henri Cartier-Bresson
French, born 1908

Cartier-Bresson is the only living photographer represented in this exhibition. Self-taught in photography, he began making pictures in accordance with his fervent belief that firsthand experience is essential for knowledge about life. His passion for new experiences led him to travel widely. Cartier-Bresson coined the phrase "the decisive moment" to describe his journalistic approach to photography, which depended on the speed and flexibility of the miniature Leica 35mm camera. His goal was to capture a single image—one instant in time—that can stand for the entirety of a place or situation.

Thomas Eakins
American, 1844–1916

Eakins trained to be a painter at the École des Beaux-Arts (school of fine arts) in Paris, where drawing was emphasized as the basis for art. Later he learned to use a camera and began to employ photographs as sketches for paintings. In 1879, he was named professor of drawing and painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and he became the first professor of art at a public teaching institution to make photography part of an artist's education.

Walker Evans
American, 1903–1975

In the summer of 1936, Fortune magazine commissioned Evans and the writer James Agee (American, 1909–1955) to document the living conditions of Depression-era sharecroppers in Hale County, Alabama. Their collaboration resulted in a body of work that was noted for its consistently objective viewpoint. Although Fortune rejected the essay, the work was published as a book in 1941, under the title Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Evans collaborated with Agee again in 1966, with the publication of his subway photographs in the book Many Are Called.

Roger Fenton
English, 1819–1869

Fenton was unique among the pioneers of photography in the extent to which he pursued a wide range of photographic genres: portraiture, architecture, landscape, and still life. The majority of his photographs were made outdoors, including several hundred portraits and landscape photographs behind the scenes of the Crimean War (1853–1856). However, his most original contribution to photography was a series of photographs made indoors under difficult lighting conditions.

Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey
French, 1804–1892

Girault de Prangey learned the daguerreotype process in 1841, perhaps from its inventor Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. He was one of the first graduates of Paris' École des Beaux-Arts (school of fine arts) to employ photography as a creative tool. From 1842-1843, he traveled through Greece, Asia Minor, and North Africa to make daguerreotypes of ancient monuments. Many of his images are the earliest surviving photographs of sites such as the Acropolis and the cities of Cairo and Jerusalem. Girault de Prangey's body of work is the first to demonstrate a mastery of formal choices-light and shadow, viewpoint, and subject matter.

David Octavius Hill
Scottish, 1802–1870
Robert Adamson
Scottish, 1821–1848

Hill and Adamson were the first photographers to systematically use the camera as a tool for social documentation. Their studies of the fishing community of Newhaven, near Edinburgh, anticipated the use of photography to depict and catalogue types of people for ethnographic, cultural, and social purposes.

Lewis Hine
American, 1874–1940

Hine was employed for a decade as a staff photographer, field researcher, and writer by the National Child Labor Committee. He used pictures to show that employers exploited children. As a teacher at the Ethical Culture School in New York, he instilled the principles of social documentary photography in subsequent generations of American photographers, such as Paul Strand. A social reformer above all, Hine nevertheless considered himself an artist.

Gertrude Käsebier
American, 1852–1934

Käsebier was the first American woman photographer to have earned an international reputation by 1900. Like Julia Margaret Cameron before her, Käsebier made women and children the focus of her attention. She was the first woman to be invited to join the exclusive Photo-Secession circle of photographers, which was founded by Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen in 1902 and espoused the fine art qualities of the medium. Preferring unusual materials, such as gum bichromate on Japanese tissue or watercolor paper, Käsebier created work that took on painterly effects, a style referred to as Pictorialist.

André Kertész
American, born Hungary, 1894–1985

Kertész began as a self-taught amateur, pursuing photography when he was not clerking at the Budapest stock exchange. In 1925, he moved to Paris and decided to pursue photography full time. There, he associated with painters, poets, designers, and filmmakers. Kertész gave a psychological twist to many of his photographs and called himself a "naturalist Surrealist." Driven from Paris by the advancing Nazi Army, he moved to New York in 1936 and became a master of using photographs to tell stories without words.

Dorothea Lange
American, 1895–1965

Born in New Jersey and educated in New York City, Lange became interested in photography as a teenager. An assistant in the New York studio of fashion photographer Arnold Genthe, she learned the trade secrets of upscale portrait photography before establishing her own studio in San Francisco in 1918. Her genius, however, was not in the repetition of formulas but in the harnessing of an instinct for unexpected pictures. She brought to portraiture a social and political consciousness, and she was a skillful observer of the way people relate to one another.

William Langenheim
American, born Germany, 1807–1874
Frederick Langenheim
American, born Germany, 1809–1879

The Langenheim brothers were among the first successful entrepreneurs of photographs depicting views of America. William was the business manager, and Frederick operated the camera and produced the pictures. The genius in their partnership was in seeing commercial potential in the new technology of photography. The Langenheims introduced the stereograph in the United States and worked almost exclusively with a twin-lens stereograph camera.

Gustave Le Gray
French, 1820–1884

Le Gray was one of the first to articulate an aesthetic that was specific to photography and to actively instruct others in his method. He experimented with photographic materials to maximize their ability to record subtle effects of light and atmosphere. In this regard, his approach paralleled the concerns of contemporary painters and looked ahead to the Impressionist movement. He also developed new photographic processes and techniques, including the waxed-paper negative, which, before the advent of glass negatives, improved the clarity and resolution of prints.

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitsky)
American, 1890–1976

About 1915, inspired by meetings with Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray learned photography and became a professional photographer of works of art. Early in his career, he began to regard photography as a highly collaborative process, and he explored the creative potential of the medium's chemistry and mechanics. He respected the role of the model in his working process. Among his collaborators were the artist Marcel Duchamp, his model and muse Kiki of Montparnasse (Alice Prin), and the photographer Lee Miller.

Lázló Moholy-Nagy
American, born Hungary, 1895–1946

From 1923 to 1928, Moholy-Nagy taught at the Bauhaus, the famed German school of art and design, where he promoted the use of machine-made materials to create art. He proposed that photography be part of the curriculum there and encouraged students to exploit the medium's potential for creating new types of images. Moholy-Nagy produced a number of completely abstract photographs. By mostly eliminating references to natural forms, he was able to explore the purely formal relationships among light, color, and form.

Eadweard J. Muybridge
American, born England, 1830–1904

Muybridge recognized that time itself could become an element of every photograph. He pushed this idea to its extreme by using multiple cameras to make sequences of photographs that, when viewed in rapid succession, re-created the movement of an animal or a person. Muybridge's chief contribution was to understand that the value of a sequence of photographs could be greater than that of any single image, thus paving the way for motion pictures.

Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon)
French, 1820–1910

Before he dedicated himself to photography in the early 1850s, Nadar was—as he wrote in his autobiography—"a poacher, a smuggler, a bureaucratic functionary, and a fighter for the cause of Polish liberation." His choice of soft overhead light, a seamless monochromatic background, and everyday clothes for his subjects was spare and unusual for photography of the mid-1800s. Nadar combined psychological insight and personal rapport with the luminaries of bohemian Paris to elicit the essential elements of his subjects' personalities. By making and exhibiting their images, he simultaneously propagated both their celebrity and his own.

Timothy O'Sullivan
American, born Ireland, 1840–1882

O'Sullivan first worked for the celebrated portrait photographer and Civil War picture merchant Matthew Brady and then for Alexander Gardner, who photographed the war as well as railroad construction in the West. O'Sullivan traveled under government sponsorship to the territories west of the Rocky Mountains in the 1860s and 1870s. He was inspired to trace the origins of the earth and the remains of early Native American cultures.

Albert Renger-Patzsch
German, 1897–1966

Renger-Patzsch made his first photograph at the age of 12, having been taught the craft by his father. In his 20s, he started his career in photography, devoting himself to the study of plant forms. Within a few years he changed direction, photographing industrial objects for commercial manufacturing companies. Renger-Patzsch saw beauty in natural and man-made subjects that were not generally considered to be beautiful. He created sharply focused, matter-of-fact photographs that celebrate the beauty and diversity of the material world.

Alexander Rodchenko
Russian, 1891–1956

Rodchenko became one of the founding instructors at a radical new art academy in Moscow that advocated pure geometric abstraction in painting and the use of machine-made materials in the industrial arts. Inspired by the power of photographs to communicate ideas, Rodchenko gave up painting in 1924 and devoted his creative energies to camera art and graphic design.

August Sander
German, 1876–1964

Sander began his career in photography as a portraitist in Vienna. In his quest for archetypes of the German people, he drafted a scheme dividing his portraits into seven broad categories-farmers, workers, women, men, artists, urban dwellers, and those outside the mainstream of German society-and almost 50 sub-themes. Titled People of the Twentieth Century, this ambitious project, which was life-defining for Sander, took portraiture to a new, universal level of expression.

Charles Sheeler
American, 1883–1965

Sheeler trained as a painter at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He took up photography in about 1912 and was one of the first American artists to use photography to elevate found objects, such as tools and machines, to the level of art through a photograph. At first, photography was simply a source of income for Sheeler, but soon it became a means of creative expression.

Charles Sheeler
American, 1883–1965

Sheeler trained as a painter at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. He took up photography in about 1912 and was one of the first American artists to use photography to elevate found objects, such as tools and machines, to the level of art through a photograph. At first, photography was simply a source of income for Sheeler, but soon it became a means of creative expression.

Camille Silvy
French, 1834–1910

Silvy was a young aristocrat whose ancestors extended to Provence, France, and Siena, Italy. By his early 20s, he had worked with the French photographer Count Olympia-Clemente Aguado de Las Marismas, who was renowned for creating illusions utilizing painted backdrops in portraits. Silvy learned from the Count that a photograph could be a skillfully created work of fiction as well as a truthful report, and he took that practice to a new level.

Frederick Sommer
American, born Italy, 1905–1999

Sommer was guided by some of the classical rules of aesthetics—simplicity, logic, and formal balance—which he applied to photography in distinctly original ways. He worked with a large-format camera utilizing a high-resolution lens and very fine-grain film to achieve prints of extreme realism. In choosing grotesquely powerful subjects, Sommer effectively challenged the meaning of the word Surrealism.

Alfred Stieglitz
American, 1864–1946

Stieglitz was one of the few American photographers of his generation to be trained in Europe. Rejecting his academic training and abandoning 15 years of personal practice, he began a quest for the "typical American expression," which he found in the work of certain American artists, most notably the painter Georgia O'Keeffe. He made more than 300 different photographs of her, which together constituted a collective work he titled Georgia O'Keeffe: A Portrait. With Edward Steichen, Stieglitz founded the Photo-Secessionist movement and successfully promoted the idea that photography deserved to be displayed in art museums.

Paul Strand
American, 1890–1976

Strand emerged just as two new artistic impulses were being felt: one from Cubism, through Alfred Stieglitz, and the other from the documentary tradition, through Lewis Hine. Strand was a student of the Ethical Culture School with Hine, who introduced him to Stieglitz and his circle. Strand demonstrated a knowledge of Cubism in his still-life studies and paid his respects to the documentary tradition in his photographs made on the streets of New York.

Josef Sudek
Czech, 1896–1976

Sudek lost his right arm in World War I and turned to photography for therapy during his recuperation. In 1921, he was admitted to the School of Graphic Arts in Prague, where he trained in professional photographic practice. In 1926, Sudek established a makeshift studio that remained his workplace and residence for more than 30 years. He was a compulsive accumulator of what most people discard, and he employed objects as sources for evocative still-life arrangements inspired by his friendships.

Doris Ulmann
American, 1882–1934

Ulmann searched for American archetypes, focusing on subsistence workers and artisans in rural Appalachia. From the beginning of her career, Ulmann pursued people untouched by modernity, including fishermen, blacksmiths, weavers, cobblers, and workers in related trades. She was motivated by despair over what she perceived as damage to traditional social structures caused by industrialization.

Carleton Watkins
American, 1829–1916

Watkins was born in New York state and trained as a carpenter. He developed an uncanny ability to choose a point of view that he, and others, considered the "best" for a landscape subject. He also exhibited a talent for structuring his photographs as a web of visual relationships united by the act of perception, thus anticipating the styles of Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, and Edward Weston. Watkins became famous by 1862 with his views of Yosemite, causing Abraham Lincoln to decree it a protected natural site.

Weegee (Arthur Fellig)
American, born Poland, 1899–1968

Weegee fell in love with photography as a teenager after seeing tintypes made by a New York street photographer. Inspired, Weegee bought equipment and materials and taught himself photography. He worked as a darkroom technician at news picture agencies for a number of years before becoming a freelance news photographer. His specialties were depravity and high society, which he saw with a cynic's eye. He sold his pictures for reproduction in New York's newspapers, including the Herald Tribune and the Daily News, among others.

Edward Weston
American, 1886–1958

In 1912, Weston moved to Los Angeles from Chicago, where he was trained in the professional techniques of photography, from chemistry to lighting to retouching negatives. He supported his family through portraiture, but actively pursued his private interest in still life. Weston was intrigued with the abstract qualities found in the human torso. "I am stimulated to work with the nude body, because of the infinite combinations of lines which are presented with every move," he once wrote. Weston left an important legacy through his talented sons and grandchildren. His older son, Brett, is represented in the related Getty exhibition Recent Acquisitions: Eugène Atget, Brett Weston, William Garnett, Milton Rogovin (February 3-May 30, 2004).