Today we take for granted the things a camera can do, whether it be a photograph of Mars or a human fetus. But 150 years ago, each new use found for the newborn medium meant an exciting leap forward in its evolution.
"The Formative Decades: Photography in Great Britain, 1839-1920" at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is an exhibit designed to highlight early innovation in British photography. With 130 images, it documents an important period of growth dating from photography's birth.
"The exhibit is about the different uses of photography in England during the Victorian period and a few years beyond," said museum photography curator Kathleen Gauss. "It's really about the way photography offered the chance to see the world in a different way.
"The images on view are not necessarily so beautiful, but they are interesting because of the innovation or experimentation with something that is so much integrated into our lives today but was so radical back then."
Sometimes the innovation meant a print development process that made the job easier, Gauss said. "It was very much a period of exploration of how to get that image produced. People experimented with different ways to make negatives and prints."
Sometimes it meant a boon for science.
"Astronomy was able to benefit," said the curator, noting the stereograph of a full moon, circa 1859, in the show. Other scientific subject matter includes a shot of the inside of a hen's egg and a picture of a plant with a long Latin name taken through a microscope.
Portraiture was transformed during the era too, Gauss said, from "its original, stiff and formal presentation, to a much more fluid atmospheric style."
A graceful, near full-length portrait of May Prinsep by Julia Margaret Cameron, circa 1870, exemplifies this change. Staring out serenely with a secure, fixed gaze, Prinsep's billowy dress and the fluid curve of her inclining torso recall pre-Raphaelite paintings, Gauss said.
Advances in photography brought the world a little closer as well.
"Those enterprising Brits took their cameras to Russia, Tahiti or India and photographed the native people in their own lands," Gauss said. "These kinds of photographs made the world accessible, they made possible the grand tour that you or I could not afford."
"The Formative Decades," through March 19, was organized by the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery of the University of Texas at Austin in cooperation with the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. It is one of several upcoming exhibits and programs planned at the County Museum of Art on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of photography.
NETWORKING DISCUSSION: A meeting to discuss what the city's new $25-million cultural support program, the Los Angeles Endowment for the Arts, will mean for working artists is scheduled for today from 4 to 7 p.m. at a private home at 465 Vista Gloriosa in Mt. Washington.
Details of the endowment, such as when its funds will be available, how to get them and who will get them, will be addressed. Those attending the meeting will be encouraged to express their hopes and concerns about the new cultural plan.
Arts advocates Susan Franklin Tanner, director of Theatre Workers Project, and Dave Marsh, author of books on pop music and a member of the board of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, will lead the meeting. RSVP and information: (213) 221-7672 or (213) 594-6866.
OPEN CHANNELS: Video artists and independent video producers who need funds and facilities may apply for both from the Long Beach Museum of Art. The museum has announced its fifth annual Open Channels Television Production Grant Program.
The competitive program provides each recipient with $2,000, a supply of tape stock and eight days access to production and post-production video facilities at a local cable studio.
For information and an application, due March 1, write to Open Channels, Long Beach Museum of Art, 2300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach 90803, or call (213) 439-2119. Applicants must be California residents and not currently in school.