Sunday, December 7, 2008

SFMOMA: Brought To Light: Photography and the Invisible 1840-1900

Brought To Light: Photography and the Invisible 1840-1900 is an exhibit of early scientific photography by both professional and amateur scientists. The curator, Corey Keller wrote of the photographs, “If they appear remarkably modern to us, it is in large part because science and photography have determined our idea of what modernity looks like.” And they did look aesthetically quite modern to me, but more interesting was the point that this early link between photography and science contributed to breaking down our civilization’s belief that seeing and knowing are the same. The show is broken down into several categories. “Spirit Photography” represents that period of time when multiple exposures gave Occultists wonderful “proof” of their work, and exposes (sorry ft pun) the disintegrating connection between truth and photography (still a tenuous connection we often make). The collection “Microscopes” when seen in the museum context certainly gave me a strong aesthetic impression- I was reminded of Abstract Expressionism, as if the photographers were capturing their psychologies in compositions of single-celled organisms. GE's early demo pictures of alternating current (above) in "Electricity" are almost breathtakingly beautiful (except that I am a little jaded by ugly fractals). Another collection with a strong artistic bent is the “X-Rays,” where images of subjects skeletons seem to purposefully focus on identity through the presence of jewelry and clothes. “Motion Studies” (Muybridge) and “Telescopes” had less of an overall aesthetic impression on me, but were strong reminders of how our seeing has changed because of these very images. This show is on through Jan 4, 2009.

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