'Yours Truly' at the Carnegie Museum of Art goes into the history of photography to find love
Lovers of photography, as well of lovers of all kinds, will find a perfectly timed exhibit in “Yours Truly: Privately Collected Photographs,” currently on display at the Carnegie Museum of Art.
Featuring 80 vintage prints by some of the most celebrated photographers of the 20th century, much of the work is of a romantic nature, making for a perfect place to take your Valentine this weekend.
Some of the images are sensual, such as a close-up shot of a magnolia blossom from 1925 by Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976); some are sentimental, such as picture of a mother kissing her daughter in Brighton Beach, N.Y., in 1985 by Rosalind Solomon (b. 1930); and some are downright sexy, such as three nude studies by Finnish photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen (b. 1945) from 1994, which take on a “Leda and the Swan” theme.
Organized by Linda Benedict-Jones, curator of photography at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the exhibit was built around 46 newly promised gifts from the collection of Pittsburgh native William T. Hillman, son of Elsie and Henry Hillman. Many have love and tenderness as a central theme.
“He's been a collector of photographs for many years,” Benedict-Jones says of Hillman, himself a photographer based in Manhattan. “He's very interested in the Carnegie Museum of Art, and very interested in helping us strengthen our collection here.”
Benedict-Jones says that, although the photographs vary widely in subject, “What you'll see as a kind of recurring theme throughout this exhibition is love.”
“There are works in the exhibition by very well-known photographers,” she says. “I mean, really celebrated masters like Bruce Davidson (b. 1933), Garry Winogrand (1928-84) and Henri Cartier Bresson (1908-2004). And then there are photographs in the exhibition by people who are not so celebrated. For example, Fred Stein (1909-1967). But the point is not really about the photographers. The point of this exhibition is the theme of love, the kind of warmth and love that we all feel and the way that photographers have captured that.”
Naturally, that means visitors will see lots of photographs of couples kissing. They range from candid shots, like “3D Couple Kissing” (c. 1955) by famed news photographer Weegee (a.k.a. Arthur Fellig, 1899-1968), which features two moviegoers locked in an embrace at an outdoor showing of a motion picture in Greenwich Village, to heroic images, like the aptly titled “Soldier Giving His Girlfriend a Smothering Kiss Goodbye at Pennsylvania Station before Returning to Duty after a Brief Furlough, New York,” (c. 1944) by Alfred Eisenstaedt (1898-1995).
Several prints by French master Henri Cartier Bresson (1908-2004) capture just the right moment, when couples can be seen locking lips in perfect embrace — “Le Jardin des Plantes, Paris, France,” from 1966 being a perfect example.
“I just think it's precious,” Benedict-Jones says of the image, which features two couples, each embracing one another on a park bench, one with their young daughter by their side. “Cartier Bresson was known for capturing what he called ‘the decisive moment' that makes a picture comes together,” Benedict-Jones says, “and you can see that here.”
Among the masterworks on display, Julia Margaret Cameron's (1815-79) “Cupid Escaped From His Mother, Daisy Taylor” from 1873 is a real standout, especially because of its age and the handwork that went into its creation. “Everything about photography in the 19th century was long and hard,” Benedict-Jones says. “She would have coated this paper by herself. She would have coated the glass plate to make the negative by herself. And then, when this was printed, it took a long time to print it.”
Underneath the image of Cupid, in Cameron's own handwriting, it reads: “From Life Registered Photograph Copy Right Julia Margaret Cameron, Freshwater, 1873, Cupid Escaped from His Mother.”
“From a collector's point of view, it is really something special to have the hand of the artist, to have her own handwriting. But even if it wasn't her own handwriting, her hand made that photograph,” Benedict-Jones says.
She says the pedigree of a photographic print like this is also crucial to a work's value. Most desired among collectors are “vintage prints,” which are images that were produced more or less at the same time as the negative was shot. “People forget that these photographs, some of them, are very small editions,” Benedict-Jones says. “The photographers didn't make that many prints at that time.”
“These things are not available anymore,” she says. “Even if we had the money in our acquisitions budget, which we do not, we would not be able to go out and acquire these.”
This fact alone makes this exhibit all the more precious, and Hillman's gift all the more appreciated.
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.