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On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: 150 Years of Photography

May 7 – July 30, 1989
West Building, Ground Floor, Central Gallery, East and West Outer Tiers, Inner Tiers

Carleton E. Watkins, Cape Horn, Columbia River, Oregon, 1867, albumen print from collodion negative mounted on paperboard, Patrons' Permanent Fund, 1995.36.126

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

Overview: 415 black-and-white and color photographs were selected from museums and private collections worldwide. The images ranged in date from 1839 to 1989 and were by 221 photographers. The exhibition was organized in sections: The Pencil of Nature (1839-1879), The Curious Contagion of the Camera (1880-1918), Ephemeral Truths (1919-1945), and Beyond the Photographic Frame (1946-present). The exhibition focused on artistic achievements in photography throughout its history and celebrated the 150th anniversary of William Henry Fox Talbot's 1839 invention of the negative-positive process of photography, which he called "the art of fixing a shadow." On crowded weekdays and weekends, free exhibition passes were distributed as necessary on a first-come, first-served basis.

Organization: David Travis, head of the department of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Sarah Greenough, research curator at the National Gallery, organized the exhibition. Travis and Greenough selected the works in conjunction with Joel Snyder, professor of humanities at the University of Chicago, and Colin Westerbeck, assistant curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago. Gaillard Ravenel and Mark Leithauser designed the exhibition, and Gordon Anson designed the lighting.

Sponsor: The Eastman Kodak Company's professional photography division supported the exhibition.

Related publicaion: The Art of Moving Shadows, by Annette Michelson, Douglas Gomery, and Patrick Loughney. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1989.

Film series: Photography and the Moving Image.

Attendance: 298,317

Catalog: On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography, by Sarah Greenough, Joel Snyder, David Travis, and Colin Westerbeck. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art; Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1989.

Brochure: On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1989.

Other Venues: Art Institute of Chicago, September 16–November 26, 1989
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 21, 1989–February 25, 1990