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Time’s Shadow

Photographs trom the Jan Leonard and Jerrold Peil Collection

February 5, 2004 - August 8, 2004

Francis Frith: The Hypaethral Temple, Philae, 1857; albumen print; 15 x 18 in.; gift of Jan Leonard and Jerrold A. Peil.

Time's Shadow features fifty images from the first decades of photography, when pioneers of the medium—quasi-scientists and intrepid explorers—cataloged near and far reaches of the world, capturing shadows of the past and the fleeting present. These remarkable works are on view thanks to the generosity of Bay Area collectors Jan Leonard and Jerrold Peil, who in the past several years have donated hundreds of photographs to BAM/PFA. Largely from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this collection includes important works by acknowledged masters such as Eadweard Muybridge, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Dorothea Lange, and Margaret Bourke-White, as well as many early innovators in the photographic medium.

The invention of photography in the late 1830s, roughly concurrent with the introduction of railroads and the invention of the telegraph, brought about one of the most radical changes in visual culture since the Renaissance. In an almost simultaneous succession of discoveries in France and Great Britain, photographic images were first captured as unique images on metal, paper, and glass. In 1839 William Henry Fox Talbot developed a process of printing positive images on light-sensitive paper. Fox Talbot and his pioneering colleagues discovered how to commit the forms and people of their place and time to a visual memory that, hundreds of years later, could manifest those precise moments of light and shadow as stalwartly as architecture.

By the 1850s, advances in photographic techniques and processes as well as in modes of transportation enabled the adventurous to document whatever places and peoples were accessible by foot, coach, train, or boat. The distant sites and exotic subjects of the Mediterranean, Egypt, and the Near East particularly aligned with nineteenth-century European Romanticism and the lure of the past and the remote. British photographer Francis Frith, for example, traveled multiple times to the Middle East during the 1850s and captured stunning archeological and architectural ruins, such as The Hypaethral Temple, Philae, documenting what many feared was a rapidly decaying culture. Juan Laurent, after beginning as a daguerreotypist in Paris, traveled to Madrid, where he established one of the earliest photographic studios in Spain. From the late 1850s to the 1890s Laurent created a vast archive of photographic views of the Iberian Peninsula. His Vistas de España album is on view in the exhibition.

Across the Atlantic, early photography chronicled the peoples and lands of an emerging nation, from the horrors of Civil War battlefields to the magnificent territories of the American West. In capturing the present, early American photography also fixed to paper the fragile imagery of what was vulnerable to the push of technology, change, and growth. During the 1870s, American artist William Henry Jackson worked with the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories to extensively document the western and northern territories. He often worked alongside the painter Thomas Moran. Jackson's photographs of Yellowstone, such as Crater of Grand Geyser, Yellowstone (1872), were instrumental in the decision by Congress to establish our first national park in 1872.

Time's Shadow will be on view in the Theater Gallery, where admission is free.

Lucinda Barnes
Senior Curator for Collections