Los Angeles may mean movies to most people, but at the moment the
town's major museums are overflowing with celluloid's predecessor,
In a happy coincidence, nearly every major museum in town has a
show examining some aspect of the still image, from its birth more
than 160 years ago up to the present day. Like a giant Muybridge
motion study photo, this close-up snapshot is an unprecedented
opportunity to understand where photography came from and where it
"Now that the era of the digital image is here, photography is
going back to drawing and painting, which is where its roots are to
begin with," says painter David Hockney, who also has used
The Getty Museum's 20th anniversary celebration of what most
critics regard as the single most important assemblage of
photographs in the world, particularly early works, provides a
comprehensive backdrop for the city-wide dialogue. Compiled from
some 100,000 images, "Photographers of Genius at the Getty"
showcases the collection, which includes historical artifacts such
as the enormous Mammoth Plate camera. In an age of cameras small as
a grain of rice, this box that dwarfs a grown man is a reminder of
how far technology has come.
The exhibition showcases 38 of the collection's most influential
pioneers dating from the late 1830s to the late 1960s. To be
included, the photographer had to be ahead of the times, says
curator Weston Naef, "and have had a measurable impact beyond their
own times." This last point is important, he says, "because
photography is an art of sequence, with each one begetting another."
The show begins with the age of the daguerreotype as well as the
first film negative. Some of the earliest images, such as the
Cyanotype photogram of plant specimens (1842) and the salt print
stylized portrait, "Mrs. Elizabeth (Johnstone) Hall" (1846) reveal
both the scientific and artistic interests of the early inventors.
As the show progresses, it's clear that these explorers were pushing
the technical limits of this new medium as quickly as they could,
and learned (or stole) from one another.
It's also clear that even the earliest practitioners regarded the
new medium as a tool to manipulate visual reality, as well as record
it. By the 1850s, new techniques such as the Calotype, which
captured light more accurately, allowed photographers to be both
more skillful and artistic. …