The Ransom Center’s photography collection contains more than 100 photographs attributed to distinguished nineteenth-century photographer O. G. Rejlander. One print is a portrait of Olivia Bennet, The Countess of Tankerville. Researcher Lori Pauli visited the Ransom Center to study the portrait, and she reflected on the possible intersection of the lives of photographer and subject in a story which originally appeared in the Fall 2014 Random Edition newsletter.
The Harry Ransom Center’s renowned photography collection includes the only known print of a portrait of Olivia Bennet, The Countess of Tankerville, by distinguished nineteenth-century photographer Oscar Gustave Rejlander. This portrait is among more than 100 photographs attributed to Rejlander (British, b. Sweden, 1813?–1875) in the Ransom Center’s photography collection. Most are spread among four albums: one that formerly belonged to the British painter William Lake Price (1810–1896); another previously owned by British artist Cecil Gordon Lawson (1851–1882); a third known as the “Riglander” album; and the last an album compiled by writer Charles L. Dodgson (1832–1898), more famously known as Lewis Carroll. There are also ten loose prints attributed to Rejlander in the collection.
Photographer Abelardo Morell, whose work is featured in the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland exhibition, delivers the Amon Carter lecture on Thursday, March 26, at 7 p.m. at the Ransom Center.
Morell’s work has been collected and shown at institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Five prints from Morell’s series Alice in Wonderland are on view in the Ransom Center’s current exhibition, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Morell says of this series, “When I began to make photographs illustrating this book by Lewis Carroll I had in mind that books themselves should form the architecture and landscape where the story takes place.”
The program is free and open to the public, but donations are welcome. Seating is first-come, first-served, and doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Students at The University of Texas have the opportunity to enhance their studies with the Ransom Center’s collections. Andrea Gustavson, PhD candidate in American Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, designed an entire class around the Ransom Center’s collections, and she writes about how the primary source materials enhanced the learning experience for her undergraduate students.
On Tuesday, March 10, at 4p.m., Roy Flukinger, Senior Research Curator of Photography, speaks about the photography of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson—better known to the world as Lewis Carroll. Flukinger will discuss Dodgson’s pursuit of photography and his recognition as one of the most accomplished amateur photographers of the Victorian Era. The program, presented in conjunction with the Ransom Center’s current exhibition Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is free and open to the public. Seating is first-come, first-served, and doors open at 3:30 p.m.
In July of 1865, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson returned home from a visit to the family of Rev. Conyngham Ellis, the Rector of Cranbourne. In a letter quickly posted to the eldest Ellis daughter, Dymphna, Dodgson asked for help with a bit of unfinished business. He wrote,
Of course I left something behind—always do: this time it was my album of photographs (and autographs). And we also forgot to get your names written in it. So will you please turn 2 or 3 pages on after ‘Mary Millais,’ and then sign your name in the same place in the page as she did, only about half an inch lower down, and then get Mary, Bertha, and Kate to do the same thing in the 3 following pages. And then will you send it by train to Croft Rectory, Darlington. Thank you—much obliged.
Dymphna followed Dodgson’s instructions and returned the album, which Dodgson titled Photographs Vol. III. One hundred and fifty years later, it is one of five Dodgson albums held in the photography collection at the Harry Ransom Center.
Dodgson carried his albums with him on visits to friends and family, using them not only to show off his photographic work, but also to help him persuade parents and their children to pose for him. The letter to Dymphna Ellis reveals Dodgson’s method of collecting signatures on blank leaves of albums when he made the portraits. He then packed away the albums and negatives and returned to his darkroom to make the albumen prints, pasting them to the appropriate album pages. Photographs Vol. III contains more than a dozen pages bearing a signature but no mounted photograph, suggesting that the photographer did not always secure a final portrait that met his expectations.
Dodgson’s albums offer crucial information about his working process but also provide a tangible record of his artistry. Like his diaries, they also reinforce the record of his travels and his interactions with numerous acquaintances throughout Victorian Britain. And, perhaps most critically, they subtly provide us with a deeper and more richly nuanced portrait of the man himself.
The exhibition Wildly Strange: The Photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard opens March 7 at The University of Texas at Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art. The exhibition features more than 35 photographs exclusively drawn from the Ransom Center’s photography collection and archives of writers from Meatyard’s intellectual circle. The exhibition is organized by Jessica S. McDonald, the Nancy Inman and Marlene Nathan Meyerson Curator of Photography at the Harry Ransom Center. The exhibition will be on view through June 21.
Studying the creative process of artists and writers, as well as tracing collaborations and intersections between them, is at the core of research at the Harry Ransom Center. In March 2015, the Ransom Center will highlight the intersection of photography and poetry in its collections, while celebrating creative collaboration across campus, in an exhibition organized with the Blanton Museum of Art. Wildly Strange: The Photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard will feature approximately 35 photographs exclusively drawn from the Ransom Center’s photography collection and archives of writers in Meatyard’s intellectual network.
In the late 1950s, Meatyard (1925–1972) began staging elaborate visual dramas enacted by his wife, children, and close friends, and experimenting with multiple exposure, blur, and abstraction to imbue his images with an ambiguous, dreamlike quality. The abandoned farmhouses and densely wooded forests of rural Kentucky served as sets for Meatyard’s symbolic scenes, turning otherwise ordinary family snapshots into unsettling vignettes of life in a deteriorating South. Meatyard called these photographs “Romances,” adopting the definition American satirist Ambrose Bierce provided in his Devil’s Dictionary: “Fiction that owes no allegiance to the God of Things as They Are.”
Groundbreaking in their time and challenging even today, Meatyard’s photographic fictions were embraced by his circle of writers and artists in Lexington, Kentucky. Guy Davenport (1927–2005), a close friend and neighbor, was routinely one of the first to examine Meatyard’s new work and used one of his photographs on the cover of Flowers & Leaves, Davenport’s 1966 long poem. Just after Davenport viewed the last of Meatyard’s photographs in 1972, he wrote to literary scholar Hugh Kenner of the “wildly strange pictures” he had seen. The exhibition will present an intriguing selection of Meatyard’s “Romances” made between 1958 and 1970, including rare variants of published images.
While Meatyard’s “Romances” are familiar to those who study and appreciate photography, his evocative portraits of writers are less well known. Often incorporating the spectral blur and unconventional angles of his primary work, they served as unconventional authors’ portraits for book jackets and promotional materials. Prints were exchanged among Meatyard’s sitters, and many entered the Ransom Center’s collections with their archives. A group of these portraits will be assembled in Wildly Strange: The Photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard to highlight the relationships both between these creative figures in Lexington and across the collections at the Ransom Center.
As the Ransom Center continually seeks innovative ways to share its collections, this collaboration with the Blanton Museum of Art will introduce its photography holdings to a new audience and will demonstrate the collective strength of the cultural institutions across The University of Texas at Austin campus.
The Ransom Center holds the archive of American photojournalist and author David Douglas Duncan, including his images of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. In honor of Veterans Day, Ransom Center Research Curator of Photography Roy Flukinger asked Duncan about photography, being a Marine, his experiences as a combat photographer, and his prediction about the next generation of war photographers. Below are Duncan’s responses, submitted in writing from his home in France.
So many of today’s photojournalists are civilians with media credentials. In contrast, during many of the conflicts that you covered, you were a Marine, first on active duty and then as a veteran, working as a combat photographer. How would you characterize the critical difference this has made in your photography and in working with military personnel?
As a Marine I always worked alone, my notes for every shot plugged into my memory—never a notebook. All of the guys around me were Marines, and, as we all knew, if one got zapped, other vertical guys would somehow get you out—to be patched up or shipped home.
Today, much of the memorable coverage has been shot by amateurs with cell phones, not Washington/Army “implanted” pros—think Abu Gharib.
You wrote in This Is War! that “There is neither climax nor conclusion to this book.” And you repeated the phrase in the foreword to your Vietnam book, War Without Heroes. Having now completed decades of covering numerous conflicts throughout the globe, would you say that the same statement is appropriate to describing all wars and that future combat photographers will also find it impossible to tell the whole story?
There is no “whole story” in combat photography—only fragments of each moment that sometimes/often seems like eternity… and in that jungle, on that strip of obscene discolored far-from-home sand, the Marine at your shoulder is your only relative in that world—unlike no other but still precious and even long-loved by those who survived to come home to the world where almost every combat Marine is often a stranger even among his own family and friends… and then, confined to a veteran’s bed where the nights were often worse than that sandy beach or sodden jungle fox-hole where it was still possible to dream of everything, including tomorrow.
The men who fought the battles, who lived and died, who shared the service alongside you are clearly more than just the subjects of your camera. When we hung your exhibition and looked through your books you frequently recalled their names and shared many anecdotes about them. And the ones I met certainly remembered you. Is this a special relationship that is shared between veterans, that goes beyond just the basic reportorial dimensions of your picture stories?
One would doubt that other lives are so enriched as those of the Marines who were my combat friends…. yet, say among many lifelong career pros, the Formula One race drivers where everything can explode in fractions of a second… where they are wheel-to-wheel at 300 kilometers-an-hour and sure of the other driver’s professionalism and nerves under constant lethal pressure… yes, there must be other lives similar where the risks and lifelong friendships could well be similar to those of veteran Marines.
You revolutionized your field with the adoption of Nikon lenses and later technological advances.Have the digital and electronic changes we have witnessed in the last generation of photojournalism made it easier or harder to tell the story of war correctly and fully?
Digital cameras/smart phones even iPads, as seen everywhere, among tourists, children, hobbling ancients, workmen everywhere reporting back to control offices somewhere faraway—everybody is a photographer today. No sweat—and many among that digital-loaded horde are very, very good photographers, having fun—their generation/taking it for granted and surely filling souvenir books at home sometimes/possibly often holding masterpieces.
You have already provided us with a lifetime of words and photographs on the subject. Are there other aspects of the story of war that you might wish to see the next generation of combat photographers address more completely on future Veterans Days?
The next generation of war photographers? ……drones!
Emily Talbot, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, received a dissertation fellowship to study nineteenth-century composite photographs by Henry Peach Robinson and his contemporaries in England and France. This research forms part of a larger project that considers the integration of photographic technologies and aesthetic standards into the production of works of art in other media. The Ransom Center is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its fellowship program in 2014–2015.
With the support of a Dissertation Fellowship at the Harry Ransom Center, I spent a month studying photographs, drawings, and other ephemera related to nineteenth-century British photographer Henry Peach Robinson (1830–1901). My dissertation project at the University of Michigan concerns relationships between photography and other media in the nineteenth century, focusing particularly on “hybrid” practices, such as painters who utilized photographic technologies or photographers who doctored their images with paint or pencil.
Robinson is a perfect case study for my project as he was one of the first and most famous practitioners of “composite photography,” an early form of photomontage that involved printing multiple negatives on the same sheet of paper. Composite prints are ambitious works of art that were intended to rival painting in their subject matter and mode of execution. Typically, Robinson would design his compositions in pencil or watercolor, later photographing each figure and landscape element separately before combining them into a single image in the darkroom.
The Helmut and Alison Gernsheim collection of photography at the Ransom Center is one of three major repositories of work by Henry Peach Robinson (the other two being George Eastman House in Rochester, New York and the National Media Museum in Bradford, England). However, because Helmut Gernsheim felt that it was important to understand a photographer’s artistic development in its entirety—an idea he notes in correspondence with Robinson’s granddaughter—the Gernsheims collected Robinson’s prints, drawings, and paintings in addition to the photographs for which he is best known. During my residency at the Ransom Center, I was particularly keen to study several rare photographic collages that Robinson made as preliminary studies for his composite prints. These half-painted, half-photographic compositions reveal Robinson’s artistic process to be a fascinating negotiation of painting and photography, imagination, and visible reality.
In my attempts to understand how Robinson conceived and created his pictures, I called upon the expertise of Barbara Brown, Head of Photograph Conservation at the Ransom Center. Together we examined 15 combination photographs, identifying and speculating about instances of handwork on the negatives as a result of painting on or masking over parts of the image before printing. During this study session I gained further appreciation for the complexity of Robinson’s technique. By making changes directly on his negatives, he left very little physical evidence of this manipulation on the prints themselves. Without being able to consult the negatives, the viewer must often guess how the image was made.
Rather than being an impediment to my research, this knowledge helps me to understand why many nineteenth-century art critics were so disapproving of composite printing. Landscape photographer Alfred Wall even described Robinson’s works as “ingenious fraud” and “contemptible shams.” Composite pictures trick the eye—the critic’s main tool of expertise—casting doubt on the reliability of photographic images and undermining the role of the critic altogether. As I move forward with my research, I intend to explore further this fraught relationship between seeing and making that is exemplified by the rich collections of nineteenth-century photography at the Harry Ransom Center.
Enter to win a copy of Henry Peach Robinson: Victorian Photographer by tweeting a link to this post and tagging @ransomcenter. Not on Twitter? Email hrcgiveaway(at)gmail.com with “Robinson” in the subject line. By entering via email, you are also opting-in to receive the Ransom Center’s monthly email newsletter. All tweets and emails must be sent by Monday, August 11, at midnight CST. A winner will be drawn and notified on Tuesday, August 12.
Image: Henry Peach Robinson, Study for A Holiday in the Wood, salted paper print with applied graphite and watercolor, May 1860.