Photography may be the most accessible of the visual arts, since anyone with a cheap digital camera can point and shoot. But even a shutter-quick look at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s American Icons: A Century of Photography and you can tell there’s more to the form than what your Polaroid can capture. The exhibit, which runs June 24 through Sept. 16, includes 117 works from some of the most influential photographers from 1850 to 1960, including Ansel Adams and Margaret Bourke-White. Check out these snapshots of just a few of the artists below.
Stieglitz studied mechanical engineering in Germany while pursuing his photography career. Once back in America he edited a journal called Camera Work and also was a gallery owner, photographer, writer and a mentor to students studying photography.
Style: Stieglitz used a sharper focus than his contemporaries and believed in “photographs looking like photographs.” Using a straight approach, he didn’t manipulate the image before or after exposure.
Best-known work: “Georgia O’Keefe,” 1933. He spent 20 years photographing his wife, Georgia O’Keefe. “He just kept his camera in his studio to take advantage of light and took photos of her gestures that struck him,” says Tom Hinson, Cleveland Museum of Art curator of photography.
Where else you can find his works: O’Keefe gave most of his work to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., after Stieglitz died.
Eadweard J. Muybridge
Born in England, Muybridge lived in San Francisco before eventually becoming a well-known landscape photographer. In 1880, he also developed a Zoogyroscope, which projected images quickly on a screen to create the illusion of movement — a stepping-stone for the motion picture industry.
Style: He also used the straight approach in his work, especially in his landscape photography, which became known for capturing the grandeur of the West.
Best-known work: “Valley of Yosemite, from Rocky Ford” (detail above). Known for its large size and detail, the negative was printed on glass known as a wet collodion.
Where else you can find his works: Stanford University and University of Pennsylvania, where he worked doing his experiments with photography and instantaneous motion. He later published Animals In Motion, a collection of 19,347 negatives from his immense studies.
Charles Leander Weed
Born in New York, Weed moved to California and became a camera operator. In 1859, he became the first photographer to work in Yosemite. The next year he made the first of several visits to Asia, Hong Kong and Hawaii to capture views of these exotic places.
Style: Interested in landscape photography, he worked with daguerreotypes — images that are processed on a light-sensitive, silver-coated metallic plate — then switched to the wet collodion technique soon after its inception in 1855.
Best-known work: “Yosemite Valley from Mariposa Trail” (detail above). “It speaks to the natural beauty of this young nation and the fascination of people exploring the West; marveling at its inherent beauties and talking about the power of nature,” says Hinson.
Where else can you find his works: Most of his works can be found in California museums and historical societies.
Born in Luxembourg, Steichen and his family moved to the U.S. in 1881. After receiving his education in Wisconsin, he studied painting in Paris and worked as a commander of aerial photography for American expeditionary forces in World War I. He also did commercial work for Vogue and Vanity Fair.
Style: Steichen practiced two extremes: pictorialism, which involved using a soft focus, special filters and lens coatings, and the sharply focused straight approach.
Best-known work: “Paul Robeson as ‘The Emperor Jones’” (above). “[Steichen] captures the energy and emotion of that artist as he thinks about assuming that role,” says Hinson.
Where else you can find his works: His heirs gave his works to the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.
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May 24, 2007