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Sisters, 1926

James Van Der Zee, Sisters, 1926, gelatin silver print, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Horace W. Goldstein Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel 2000.83.2

The artist’s studio has traditionally been seen as a retreat from the outside world, a place where experimentation can freely occur. Photographers’ studios have taken various forms depending on whether they are public or private spaces, designed for commercial, scientific, or artistic purposes. In the 19th century, many photographers established commercial studios where they made portraits of customers posed before elaborate backdrops. This tradition continued into the 20th century in studios such as that of James Van Der Zee (American, 1886 - 1983) in Harlem, which was equipped with scenery and a variety of props and costumes. Other 20th-century photographers, such as Irving Penn (American, 1917 - 2009), cleared their studios of such accessories, presenting their subjects in front of neutral backgrounds.

Arrangement of the Cameras for Taking the Illustrations of the Paces, 1879

Eadweard Muybridge, Arrangement of the Cameras for Taking the Illustrations of the Paces, 1879, in J. D. B Stillman, The Horse in Motion as Shown by Instantaneous Photography with a Study on Animal Mechanics, 1881 – 1882, heliotype, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon 2008.11.2

Beginning in the late 1870s, Eadweard Muybridge’s studios functioned much like scientific laboratories, with multiple cameras and devices to measure minute changes through time. For his first motion studies of horses, he designed a large shed to house his equipment next to a race track in Palo Alto, California. In 1884, the University of Pennsylvania commissioned Muybridge to make photographs for a study entitled Animal Locomotion, providing him with an elaborate studio with more sophisticated cameras, shutters, and timing mechanisms. Alfred Stieglitz, like many other 19th- and 20th-century photographers, never had a designated studio, but instead used his galleries in New York—291, An Intimate Gallery, and An American Place—as well as the New York apartments he shared with the painter Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887 - 1986) as artistic “laboratories,” as he phrased it.

Self-Portrait, 1974

Sally Mann, Self-Portrait, 1974, gelatin silver print, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (Gift of Olga Hirshhorn) 2015.19.4924

In the last 50 years, as numerous photographers have turned away from more traditional genres—landscape, cityscape, photojournalism, or street photography—they have used their work spaces as arenas in which to explore new ideas, construct alternate worlds, or perform for the camera.