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Fall, 1969

Vito Acconci, Fall, 1969, two gelatin silver prints, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons’ Permanent Fund 2008.30.1

Eadweard Muybridge was among the first to exploit fully photography’s ability both to freeze time and make sequential pictures. His pioneering publication, Animal Locomotion (1887), included 781 plates, each a series of pictures that broke down the movement of a wide variety of animals—from horses, elephants, ostriches, and deer to men, women, and children—into discrete elements for study by scientists, artists, and others. His ideas remained timely for modern conceptual artists, among them Vito Acconci (American, 1940 - 2017) and Bruce Nauman (American, born 1941), who began working with issues of time, sequence, and motion during the 1960s, sometimes making series of pictures of the human body, just as Muybridge had done. Other 20th-century photographers, such as Alfred Stieglitz and Minor White (American, 1908 - 1976), explored the poetic and expressive power of sequential imagery, while Paul Graham (British, born 1956) used it to reinvigorate street photography, showing how the urban environment is one of continuous change.

For White, making and sequencing photographs was a poetic process that helped convey the spiritual connections he found in the natural world. Sequence 17 (1959–1962) merges his portraits of two close friends with photographs of favorite landscapes they visited—the California and Oregon coasts and the Utah desert—to equate the human spirit with natural phenomena. “When a sequence is brewing, the feeling inside is akin to a storm gathering,” wrote White, who was also a renowned teacher and founder of Aperture, an organization that promotes the publication, exhibition, and study of photographic art. The slideshow above presents all 25 photographs from Sequence 17.