Barbara Morgan’s “Martha Graham in Letter to the World” (Barbara and Willard Morgan photographs and papers, UCLA Library Special Collections; choreography by Martha Graham, courtesy of Martha Graham Resources)

Explore the Evolution of Photography in Cincinnati

“Moment in Time: A Legacy of Photographs/Works from the Bank of America Collection” at the Taft Museum of Art shows how photography changed from the 1840s to the 1960s. 

Today, taking a photo is as easy as pulling a cell phone from your pocket. Though, as the photographic images featured in “Moment in Time: A Legacy of Photographs/Works from the Bank of America Collection” show, it took a lot of innovation to get here.

The touring exhibition, on display at the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati through Sept. 15, highlights 115 works spanning from the 1840s to the 1960s, a pivotal period in photography history. The gallery also includes examples by well-known artists such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Alfred Stieglitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and others.

“It helps people understand where [photography] came from and how hard these early photographers had to work and experiment,” says Angela Fuller, co-curator at the Taft Museum of Art with Tamera Muente. “For us to get to where we are today is pretty interesting.”

Curator and historian Nancy Newhall assembled the exhibition in the 1960s for the Exchange National Bank of Chicago, which later became Bank of America. It was the first corporate collection of photographs in the nation, on par with some of the finest museum photography collections of the time. The works included are a cross section of developments in photography technology, styles and themes. Early examples include William Henry Fox Talbot’s 1843 calotype “Orléans Cathedral,” a straightforward documentation of a cathedral, and Julia Margaret Cameron’s 1870 portrait of a woman.

“Then we go into the early 20th century, where we see artists who are going between two kinds of photography,” Muente says. “One is pictorialism, where they’re trying to make photographs that resemble paintings or drawings in an effort to get photography accepted as a fine art medium, and soon after them there are photographers who decided, ‘Why can’t a photograph just look like a photograph and still be art?’”

Works by pictorialists Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz as well as landscape photographer Ansel Adams are included in the exhibition. A photo by Edward Weston turns details of California sand dunes into abstract imagery, while Robert Frank’s photos portray isolation and segregation in post-World War II America. Eliot Porter’s “Maple Leaves and Pine Needles, Tamworth, New Hampshire” utilizes a complicated dye-transfer process, creating vivid color that is best seen in person.

“I hope people will appreciate looking at these as objects, too, because we see so much photography on a screen,” Muente says. “These are tangible, beautiful objects, and there’s a difference in looking at them [and] looking at an image on a screen.”

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